William Vincent Campbell Jr. (August 31, 1940 – April 18, 2016) was an American businessman and chairman of the board of trustees of Columbia University and chairman of the board of Intuit. He was VP of Marketing and board director for Apple Inc. and CEO for Claris, Intuit, and GO Corporation.
Bill Campbell called “The Coach” as he was coach to some of the brightest minds in silicon valley such as Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg and Sundar Pichai at Google, Susan Wojcicki at YouTube, Steve Jobs at Apple, Brad D. Smith at Intuit, Jeff Bezos at Amazon, John Donahoe at eBay, Marissa Mayer at Yahoo, Jack Dorsey and Dick Costolo at Twitter, and Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook.
Bill Campbell went from college football coach to senior executive at a Fortune 500 company in less than five years. He was a superb business executive. And he did it through practicing: operational excellence, putting people first, being decisive, communicating well, knowing how to get the most out of even the most challenging people, focusing on product excellence, and treating people well when they are let go.
THE CHAMPION FROM HOMESTEAD
Bill Campbell didn’t even get to California until his early forties, and he had started his business career only a few years before that. In fact, this Silicon Valley success story packed a few lifetimes’ worth of accomplishments into his seventy-five-year span. He grew up pugnacious and smart in the western Pennsylvania steel town of Homestead, where his father taught physical education in the local high school and moonlighted at the mill.
Bill was a good student and worked hard. Astute too: he wrote an April 1955 op-ed in his school newspaper that reminded his fellow students “there is nothing more important to you in later life” than good grades. “Loafing in school may prevent one’s chances of success.” He was a freshman at the time.
A football star at Homestead High, Bill left home in the fall of 1958 to attend Columbia University in Manhattan. He was an unlikely-looking football hero even in that era when football players were far more human-sized than they are today: maybe five ten, 165 pounds (although listed in the program at 180). But he quickly earned the respect of coaches and teammates alike with his all-out play and on-field intelligence. By his senior year, the fall of 1961,
He graduated from Columbia in 1962 with a degree in economics, received a master’s degree in education in 1964, and migrated north to become an assistant football coach at Boston College. Bill was an outstanding coach and quickly became highly respected among his peers. So when his alma mater, Columbia, asked him to return as its head coach in 1974, he agreed. Although Columbia’s football program was woeful, Bill’s loyalty guided him back to Manhattan.
- Despite his abundant coaching talent, Bill did not win in his return to Columbia. Hampered by crummy facilities that were at least a thirty-minute bus ride from campus in afternoon traffic, an administration that was perhaps not fully committed to gridiron success, and a city in general decline, the Lions won only twelve games during his tenure, losing forty-one.
- His most hopeful season was 1978, when the team started 3-1-1 but then got crushed at Giants Stadium, 69–0, by a much bigger (physically and numerically) Rutgers squad. Bill decided partway through the 1979 campaign that he was going to resign. He completed the season and was done.
- His football career was done. At age thirty-nine, Bill entered the business world by taking a job with the ad agency J. Walter Thompson. He started in Chicago, supporting Kraft, then several months later moved back to New York to support Kodak.
- He dove into his job with customary passion, impressing his clients in Rochester, New York, so much with his knowledge and insights about their business that they soon hired him away from the agency. Bill rose quickly at Kodak, and by 1983 he was working in London as the company’s head of consumer products for Europe.
Intuit and Apple Board
- In 1994, Bill became Intuit’s CEO. He shepherded the company through several years of growth and success, stepping down in 2000.* Although he did not know it at the time, he was about to enter the third chapter of his career, a return to coaching full-time, but not on a football field.
- When Steve Jobs was forced out of Apple in 1985, Bill Campbell was one of the few leaders at the company who fought against the move. Dave Kinser, an Apple colleague of Bill’s at the time, recalls Bill saying that “we’ve got to keep Steve in the company. He’s way too talented to just let him leave!” Steve remembered that loyalty.
- When he returned to Apple and became its CEO in 1997, and most of the board members stepped down, Steve named Bill as one of the new directors.* (Bill served on the Apple board until 2014.)
THE TRILLION DOLLAR COACH
- Bill Campbell was a trillion-dollar coach. In fact, a trillion dollars understates the value he created. He worked side by side with Steve Jobs to build Apple from near bankruptcy to a market capitalization of several hundred billion dollars. He worked side by side with Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and Eric to build Google (now Alphabet) from a startup to a market capitalization that’s also several hundred billion dollars that’s well over a trillion dollars already, and doesn’t include the numerous other companies Bill advised.
- By that measure, Bill was the greatest executive coach the world has ever seen. And not an executive coach in the traditional mold, working solely to maximize the performance of individuals; Bill coached teams.
- Bill’s approach to coaching, both what he coached and how he coached it, was unique and incredibly—a trillion dollars!—successful. It is also something needed in today’s business world, when success lies in moving quickly and continually creating innovative new features, products, and services.
All the best in your quest to get better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.