Bill Campbell — who garnered the name “The Coach” for the sage advice and counsel he gave numerous tech leaders from Apple’s Steve Jobs to Google’s Larry Page to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos — has died.
News of his passing popped up on Facebook early this morning and many prominent tech players also confirmed the death to me, which came after a long battle with cancer.
It is a big loss for Silicon Valley, given the impact a man who said he did not even know how to do HTML had by virtue of wisdom alone.
But he was not without tech chops. Campbell ran companies like Intuit and worked in key jobs at Apple, Claris and Go, and also served on a plethora of boards, including Columbia University, Intuit and Apple. He had been a longtime adviser to Google execs including Page and Eric Schmidt –and really just about every major tech executive you could think of at some point. Andreessen Horowitz’s Ben Horowitz featured him in his book “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” and Kleiner Perkins’ John Doerr just referenced him as a key adviser in a recent decision to change his role at the firm.
He was also an actual football coach at Columbia University way back when, which got him his famous nickname. It was a good one, since he was the go-to person as a kind of CEO whisperer for major figures in tech, especially when they had thorny issues to deal with.
Mostly, Campbell was just a really decent man, with little ego and a well of generosity in an industry much in need of it.
In an interview with Fortune in 2014 when he stepped down from the Apple board, this was perfectly put in this passage:
Campbell has walked a sometimes not-so-fine line during his business coaching career managing potential conflicts of interest. The highest-profile danger zone was his dual role on the Apple board and advising Schmidt and Google. “Steve would say, ‘If you’re helping them you’re hurting me.’ He would yell at me,” recalls Campbell, whose normal banter typically needs to be sanitized for most publications. “I’d say, ‘I can’t do HTML, come on. I’m just coaching them on how to run their company better.’” He continued in both roles for years.
What a guy.
My deep condolences to his family and much, much larger family of friends throughout tech.
(I will be collecting memories of Campbell all day to post later, so please feel free to send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.)