Who is Ryan Smith, the new Utah Jazz owner?

The evidence of Qualtrics co-founder and CEO Ryan Smith’s love of basketball is unmistakable for anyone who visits the company’s Provo headquarters.

Walk through the doors and, instead of the typical whiz-bang lobby of a highly successful tech company, you’ll instead have stepped foot onto the hardwood of a basketball half-court, emblazoned with the Qualtrics logo. 

CEO Ryan Smith plays basketball with employees at Qualtrics headquarters in Orem, Utah, in February 2018.
Qualtrics CEO Ryan Smith, left, plays basketball with employees at the business in Provo on Friday, Feb. 2, 2018. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

And, it’s no showpiece.

The new Utah Jazz owner has been a baller both on and off the court since long before Wednesday’s announcement of his acquisition of the Utah Jazz in a deal that also includes Vivint Arena, the G League’s Salt Lake City Stars and “management” of the Salt Lake Bees.

Utah Jazz, Qualtrics to continue 5 For The Fight
A look at some of the highs and lows during the Millers’ ownership of the Utah Jazz
Gail Miller family selling majority interest in Utah Jazz to Qualtrics CEO Ryan Smith

Qualtrics was founded in Provo in 2002 by Ryan Smith and Jared Smith based on technology first developed by Ryan Smith and his father, BYU researcher and professor Scott Smith, amid the elder Smith’s fight (it was successful) against throat cancer.

Initially conceived of as a survey tool for academics, the company morphed into a set of tools and deep data analysis optimized for assessing clients’ business vitality, as viewed through the eyes of their clients and/or employees.

Unlike many tech startups that seek, and secure, investment capital without much more than an idea and snazzy presentation deck, Qualtrics was profitable very early on and chose to bootstrap growth funding themselves without the backing of venture capitalists.

Qualtrics CEO Ryan Smith sits with former President Barack Obama during the company’s annual user summit in March 2019.
Former President Barack Obama speaks with Qualtrics co-founder and CEO Ryan Smith during the company’s annual user summit at the Salt Palace Convention Center on Wednesday, March 6, 2019. | Qualtrics

Almost a decade later, when the company began signing on investors, it attracted the interest of Silicon Valley’s heaviest hitters, though Smith said the company was always more interested in the expertise Qualtrics could leverage through the deals than the big checks that came with them.

As further proof of Smith’s commitment to hacking his own path through the fast-moving world of high technology, he famously declined a $500 million cash offer for the company in 2012. Instead, Smith chose to continue growing Qualtrics as it was quickly becoming the go-to platform for business clients across numerous sectors.

Just days before a public stock offering was set to launch in 2018, Qualtrics announced it was acquired by European software giant SAP. While Qualtrics’ estimated value ahead of the IPO was around $5 billion, SAP turned the heads of tech industry watchers by offering a staggering $8 billion for the company.

In a letter included in an SEC filing ahead of the IPO and signed by Ryan and Jared Smith, the brothers underscored the goals that had driven their company’s success:

“Our mission is to help organizations leverage experience management to turn their customers into fanatics, employees into ambassadors, brands into religions, and products into obsessions. From our earliest days, we knew that if we were going to do something special we had to write our own playbook, not follow someone else’s.”

Ryan, Jared and Scott Smith’s share of the SAP windfall was reportedly around $3 billion. Forbes estimates Ryan Smith’s personal net worth at around $1.3 billion.

Ryan Smith, 42, is a vociferous sports fan and anyone who follows his social media feeds knows that he’s a proud backer of all things BYU athletics (his alma mater) and a longtime supporter of the Jazz, both as a fan and the guy writing checks as the team’s jersey patch sponsor.

When the NBA signed off on sponsored patches for player jerseys in 2017, the Jazz became a standout for a team whose patch was touting a philanthropic effort rather than a corporate brand.

Ryan Smith, Qualtrics CEO, walks across the stage speaking during the Qualtrics X4 Summit at the Salt Palace Convention Center.
Qualtrics co-founder and CEO Ryan Smith speaks during the second day of the Qualtrics X4 Summit at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 7, 2019. | Steve Griffin, Deseret News

Smith struck an agreement with the Jazz that year for an undisclosed but likely multimillion-dollar contract to feature the logo of Smith’s cancer fighting charity effort — 5 for the Fight — on player jerseys. That deal was re-upped last fall to run through the 2022-23 season with a global campaign that invites individuals to donate $5 for efforts to find a cure for cancer. The effort has so far raised over $24 million.

While Qualtrics has grown its national and international footprint under the SAP umbrella, including a new co-headquarters in Seattle, the company has also doubled down on its commitment to Utah with a mammoth expansion of its Provo facility in the works.

Last year saw a series of new Qualtrics offices opened around the world. 

In September, the company unveiled the Qualtrics Tower co-headquarters project in Seattle which spans 275,000 square feet and will become the eventual home for more than 2,000 employees. In October, Qualtrics announced a new office building in Dublin where the company will create 350 additional jobs, doubling the number of employees in that region to more than 700. And in November, the company announced a new 25,000-square-foot office in Chicago that will house 200 employees along the city’s riverfront.

The company currently has 25 offices around the world with over 3,000 employees and plans to grow to more than 8,000 employees by 2023. Qualtrics serves more than 11,000 organizations in over 100 countries.

While Smith’s company has a global footprint, the new Jazz owner alluded to keeping the Jazz in Utah in a Wednesday press release.

“We all owe a great debt to the Miller family for the amazing stewardship they have had over this asset for the past 35 years,” Smith said. “My wife and I are absolutely humbled and excited about the opportunity to take the team forward far into the future — especially with the greatest fans in the NBA. The Utah Jazz, the state of Utah, and its capital city are the beneficiaries of the Millers’ tremendous love, generosity and investment.

“We look forward to building upon their lifelong work.”