Bill Campbell (1940–2016)
Former Intuit CEO Bill Campbell wasn’t a gifted coder or product whiz. Google’s executive chairman and former CEO, recalls his true gift: knowing how to push and motivate people.
When I started at Google in late 2001, John Doerr, one of our early investors, called me to say, “Bill works with our companies. He’s good at being a coach and mentor.” I remember saying, “I don’t really need a coach. I’ve been an experienced CEO for many years. I’m not a kid.” John pushed for it: “Tennis players have coaches, and maybe you need a coach, too.” Bill came over to talk to me, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Once you met Bill, you knew you wanted him to help.
It’s hard to know what Google would have been like without him. He was present at every decision of consequence. He understood the people. He would normally say very little during my staff meetings and just observe. And then I and other executives would individually make a trek to his Intuit office in Palo Alto for his feedback. He wasn’t a technical wizard, but he understood how to solve human problems and motivate people. He would have been a good coach in any industry.
When he and Steve Jobs recruited me to the Apple board, I saw that he was Steve’s closest friend and advisor. That experience made me realize something: Bill was simultaneously the management consultant and mentor to what today are the two most valuable companies in the world: Apple and Google. That’s an extraordinary achievement.
Bill viewed himself as Silicon Valley’s confidant. He was very careful to say, “I’m here to help you. I don’t want anything in return. I don’t want any attention.” If he had had a public persona, it would’ve made him less effective. This was very genuine. Some people want power or fame. He wanted love. He wanted to be appreciated. And he was.