Former Intuit CEO and executive adviser Bill Campbell, who coached corporate leaders including late Apple CEO Steve Jobs, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos and Google co-founder Larry Page and former CEO Eric Schmidt, died April 18 of cancer. He was 75.
Campbell’s death was initially reported by Re/code and later confirmed by the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers on behalf of Campbell’s family.
“Bill Campbell passed peacefully in his sleep after a long battle with cancer,” the firm said in a statement to the press. “The family appreciates all the love and support but asks for privacy at this time.”
In public postings on Twitter and Facebook, friends remembered Campbell for his frequent hugs and uncanny ability to inspire people to produce their best work. Among his many accomplishments, he led Intuit’s business to new heights as its CEO and helped shape Google’s culture by coaching its founders.
Campbell also served as CEO of Claris, a business productivity software company similar to Microsoft Office that was spun out of Apple in 1987, and pen computing pioneer Go Corp. In addition, he served as chairman of the Board of Directors at Apple for several years.
Campbell was described by Forbes as “an intensely private individual who rarely talked to the press.” He was beloved, even revered, by those he influenced and touched.
“His contribution to the success of Google and now Alphabet is incalculable,” Schmidt, chairman of Google’s parent company Alphabet, wrote in a public Facebook post. “His legacy is the smile that he created on everyone’s face and the great leaders of the valley whom he coached. Bill was a truly gifted man, and the world lost a great leader.”
Campbell originally started at Google as a coach to its top executives, but quickly became settled inside the company’s management, offering his wisdom and advice to those who sought it.
“When he came over to Google, his theory was that he was going to give back,” Schmidt told Forbes. “He refused compensation and just helped out. He was not particularly technical but he had unusually good judgment of people’s commitment and intelligence, and the clarity of their thinking.
“Once you understood how good he was, you just implemented his recommendations. He was that good.”
Campbell took an unusual path to his work in Silicon Valley. He was born in Homestead, Pa., across the Monongahela River from Pittsburgh, and studied economics and teaching at Columbia University, playing on the school’s football team. the Columbia Lions. He returned to the school years after graduation to become the team’s head coach. The Lions recorded a less-than-impressive record of 12-41-1 during his six seasons at the head coach.
Later in life, after his success in Silicon Valley, Campbell would return to serve as chairman of the Board of Trustees at Columbia.
When a friend suggested Campbell look at a career in advertising rather than football coaching, he listened. That advice would change his life and bring him to the San Francisco Bay Area, just as the region’s tech industry was starting to boom in the late 1970s.
John Sculley, Apple’s CEO who replaced the embattled Steve Jobs in 1983, recruited Campbell to take a job as Apple’s head of marketing that same year. Sculley admired his ability to coach outstanding work out of others.
“Bill Campbell will be remembered as one of the influential shapers of the high-tech industry, and he didn’t do it with technology,” Sculley said in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle. “He did it with very subtle and low-profile coaching from the sidelines.”