7 Leadership Lessons From the Coach Who Mentored Steve Jobs, Eric Schmidt, and Jeff Bezos

7 Leadership Lessons From the Coach Who Mentored Steve Jobs, Eric Schmidt, and Jeff Bezos

Bill Campbell dies at 75, leaving Silicon Valleys top leaders without their most trusted adviser.

VC Ben Horowitz onstage with his friend and mentor Bill Campbell (right).

Most Silicon Valley titans are familiar figures. They makecommencement speechesthat rack up millions of views on YouTube, get profiledbybusiness websites such as this one, and have irreverentmovies made about their lives.

And then there was Bill Campbell, who died of cancer on Mondayat 75. He was one of the most influential figures inSilicon Valley, yet was outside the norm injust about every way. Even though he was CEO of Intuit and was chairman of its board until his death, Coach, as everyone called him, could not write a line of code. He grew up in the Rust Beltof Pennsylvania and attended Columbia only because his father knew the football coach there and he wanted to play. He got a degree in education and headed intoa career as a college football coach. But somewhere along the way he took a left turn and wound up at Apple (where, among other things, he keptthe company from chickening out and canceling its famous 1984 Super Bowl ad).

He went on to become a VC, take on the top slot at Intuit, and eventually become a valued and trusted adviser to an impressive list of high-tech luminaries that includes Steve Jobs, Eric Schmidt, Larry Page, Jeff Bezos,and Ben Horowitz, among others.

His death is a sad, sad loss. But we can all still benefit from his wisdom.

Campbell cared deeply both about the people he coached and the employees at the companies he helped lead. In 2002,Ben Horowitz(now a legendary VC and co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz) made a deal with EDS to save LoudCloud, the web-hosting company he had co-founded. Though the deal kept the company alive, it meant a major restructuring and layoffs of a third of its employees. Horowitz was headed to New York City for a joint press conference with EDS, but Campbell advised against it. Nobody in the companys going to care about anything but where they stand. You have to deliver the news, Campbell said, according to aFortuneinterview with Horowitz.Be there all day — help them carry their stuff to the car.

Horowitz canceled his trip and wound up happy he did. It allowed me to live and manage another day. That was the foundation for everything we did after that.

In amoving tributeposted on Medium earlier today, Horowitz describes the depth of Campbells empathy when Horowitzs eldest child, Jules, revealed he was transgender and would undergo hormone treatment and surgery. Tears welled up in Campbells eyes when he heard the news — and he immediately asked to see Jules so he could give him a hug and let him know he would always be there for him. The worst thing about today is that Icant call Bill. I miss him so much, Horowitz writes.

Silicon Valley is famously data-driven. But many times, executives make their numbers bymaking life harder for everyone around them. Campbell understood this, so he came up with a review system that evaluates people across four measures: their traditional metrics; theirpeer relationships; how well they develop the people who work for them; andhow innovative they are.

You need to really kill it at both, Campbell counseled. This is why many of the companies he advised — includingGoogleand Apple — have no COO. Vision is very important, he believed — and so is operational excellence. In astructure with a CEO and COO, the CEO can get too distant from the real life within an organization, while the COO gets bypassed by executives who insist on reporting directly to the top.

Top executives whove been coached by Campbell report that he was always seeking to increase R&D budgets. At his suggestion, Intuit gave its engineers four hours of unstructured time every week — and wound up with some new products. Though he had no technological chops himself, many who knew him report that Campbell set a very high value on software engineers and their ability to come up with wonderfulinnovationswhen given the freedom and resources to do so.

One reason so many top executives looked to Campbell for mentoring is that they knew they could trust him completely with anything they told him. Thus, he was able to serve for years on the boards of archrivals Apple and Google with no conflict-of-interest issues (although there was some yelling from Jobs).

Campbell tended to stay out of the spotlight. You wont find many videos of him on YouTube — which is ironic since one of his roles at Google was to counsel YouTubes top executives. But he never wanted to accept praise for the accomplishments of anyone he mentored.

People (many in the press) want to credit others for aiding the CEO/founder in these decisions. This result is totally unfair, he toldFortunereporter Jennifer Reingold by email — as an explanation for his refusal to be interviewed.

In further defiance of Silicon Valleynorms, Campbell operated most often not from a shiny office but from a table (with a plaque reading Coachs Corner) in the Old Pro sports bar in Palo Alto. Campbell was an investor in the bar, and often gave advice to high-flying tech executives there. He was fond of both hugs and profanity and apparently handed out plenty of both.

People loved him for it. He was living proof that you can be exactly who you are, live the way you want to live, and still do really, really well. And leave the world a better place for having been here.

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