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Bear hugs, beer, advice: Tech and non-tech mourn passing of Bill Campbell


Bear hugs. Beer. Friday happy hour at the Old Pro. Advice. More bear hugs.

That’s just some of the ways that Silicon Valley and many others chose to remember Bill Campbell, the man who was nicknamed “Coach” and advised some of tech’s biggest players, including Apple’s Steve Jobs, Larry Page of Google and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.

He died earlier today at 75 of cancer.

As I noted earlier today: “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.

Below are some of the dozens of emails I received, many of which are from outside Silicon Valley. (I wish I could include them all, but I got dozens and dozens.) I also added some tweets, as they are myriad too.

In the meantime, there will be a memorial service and a lot of great memories to be shared.

Emails and Posts:

Sheryl Sandberg: I met Bill during my first week at Google. Having been convinced by Eric Schmidt to jump on the rocket ship, I had joined Google but it was not very clear what my job actually was. I was supposed to be a “business unit general manager,” but there were no business units and therefore I had nothing to manage. I met Bill in the lobby of our only building. His first question was: “What do you do here?” I had no real answer so I went into a long explanation of what I used to do at the Treasury Department and what I thought I might do one day at Google. He listened impatiently and said again, “What do you do here?” I paused and said, “I don’t really know.” And he said, “Well, you better figure it out. No one cares what you used to do or what you want to do — just what you actually do.” It was sage advice that I never forgot. He helped me and many others figure out what we did at Google – and over the next six years I turned to him over and over for advice.

Ron Conway: Bill was a family man and great friend to so many. The most “giving” person around the table. Never hesitating to share advice with so many, and some who became legends in their own right because of Bill’s mentoring and advice.

Susan Wojcicki: In my Grace Hopper speech, I talked about an event I wanted to attend but wasn’t invited and how someone more influential than me intervened and made sure I was there. That person was Bill … He was a great advocate of women and diversity in organizations and think that is a good example of how he helped women leaders like myself.

Tim Armstrong: Everyone will cover how he coached the CEOs, but what he really did was press CEOs to build and coach their teams. He was a team coach as much as he was an individual coach.

Larry Cohen: One thing you will hear from Claris employees was how he would walk the halls and through the cubicles all the time — would ask to see work on products and would get excited and give the biggest hugs and punches in the arm. Was incredibly emotionally invested in peoples work and careers — like no other.

Shishir Mehrotra: Bill had been regularly helping us out for months at that point — advising me and various team members 1-1, as well as attending board meetings, etc. His impact was quite large, and I realized that we had never agreed on a compensation structure for his work. In one of our meetings, I asked him how he would like to handle that. He quickly replied, “Don’t worry about it, I don’t need anything, I do this because I want to.” I pushed a bit harder and he said, “Look, if you insist, you can give me something. But I’m just going to give it away to charity. But I’m here to help you regardless of what you decide.”

Nirav Tolia: Bill was on the board of my first company, Epinions. He hated to join boards, but he did it for us because we begged him to do so. As my CEO coach, I had the privilege of meeting with him a few times a month for 3+ years … He called himself a “dumbass football coach,” but obviously few knew better how to build teams and transform those teams into great companies. While he coached me, he also coached Jobs, Schmidt, and Bezos — so I used to tease him about “coming over to the scrub team” when he visited us at Epinions. But he always made our team and me feel special and loved.

Diane Solinger: While I now work at Google and lead Google’s employee giving and volunteering programs, I met Bill when I was the Executive Director of the American Heart Association. Bill was then the CEO of Intuit. I remember how open he was to meet with me and guide me through concepts that enabled us to build one of the largest American Heart Walks in the country. We would meet for lunch (nothing fancy; boxed salads or sandwiches) in his office and he’d help me understand the nudges and reinforcements that motivate people to volunteer and give. His wisdom and his straightforwardness influences me to this day.

Bob Soltys: Billy and I were roommates living in the Alpha Chi Rho fraternity house on W 113th St. during the 1960-61 CC school year. We, and a number of our AXP brothers, were/are Catholic and Billy thought we should all attend daily 7am Mass at the local RC church (Church of Notre Dame) adjacent to Morningside Park. Our initial reaction was NFW, Billy insisted as only he can, and we agreed. Though a big deal at the time, it was a relatively small sacrifice — which I came to better appreciate over time. That memory has stuck with me all these years and I know I am a better person for it. I also know that Billy is with God now — and probably kicking some ass up there as well.

Lucas Duplan: A lot of people probably know Bill helped guide and mentor some of the Valley’s best CEOs. What they may not know is he was equally willing to take the call of a 22 year-old stanford kid working on his first business, not when it was clearly headed for success but quite the opposite, failure. After we/I started getting beat up by the media, he invited me to his house. He showed me his attic — where he kept a bunch of family photos — and as we walked around he put his arm around me and said, “Ignore the garbage online. You’re an entrepreneur and if it’s not this company, it’ll be the next.” He then looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Duplan, have you read Ben Horowitz’s book, “The Hard thing about Hard Things.” “Yeah,” I said. “Good, now in 10 years you can write one and you should call it: How to fuck up a company and come out whole.”

Summit Shah: I was fortunate enough to briefly work with him during his trustee years at Columbia. As an undergrad (Columbia Engineering to be specific, SEAS 2008 in Biomedical Engineering), I was on the University Senate and got to work with the Trustees on Budget work, but never got to work directly with Bill. I went to the President’s house (Bollinger) for an event and met him there. He was having a wonderful time and I came up to formally introduce myself and spent a good hour or so talking about the university, infrastructure, and how to make the situation between administrators and students better. You could tell he truly cared about it, especially in a college that had gaps within the system. It was a refreshing and exciting moment, especially to get the knowledge and advice of someone who helped build some of the most powerful tech companies in the world.

Colleen Fedor: Billy was a really decent, KIND, HARD WORKING, HONEST man who liked Bud Light, told it like it is (swear words and all!) and who was extremely generous with his good fortune. He never forgot his roots and has made a tremendous difference in the lives of nearly every family in Homestead, West Homestead and Munhall. His contributions to our school district and the neighborhoods are too numerous to list. And, beyond the financial contribution was his leadership — he taught us with his example, how to challenge the status quo and how to make a difference … all for the good of the kids.

Clay Baker: When Bill was CEO at Intuit my ex-wife was working there as a Senior VP. While on a business trip, she collapsed in an airport and was sent to an ER in New Jersey. Bill called me immediately to explain what had happened and then he put me on a private plane to go get her and bring her home. I had two small children at home and it was looking very likely that I was about to become a single parent. She not only survived the ordeal and surgery at Stanford, because of Bill’s quick action, but we had one more child together. I owe him a career I had at Netscape, my wife and a daughter, and much more.

Dan Rosensweig: Bill had a way of telling stories that helped you understand the situation and focus on making better choices. Among my fav: Bill was sick but called and asked me to go for a walk. I said I’ll be right over. He said no we will take a virtual walk in the phone. Uh oh — where we going? Back behind the woodshed! He had heard I was wavering an a tough call and wanted me to know that I already knew what to do — and delaying doesn’t make it easier or better and that I needed to do it then!

Kathleen Clark: Although I haven’t spoken to him in more than 20 years, I always believed that one day I would pick up the phone and listen to his wit and wisdom. He was a unique combination of force of nature and humility. He won’t be replaced. I met Bill when I was a product manager developing the first handhelds and tablets for Compaq in the early 90s. During that time, I spent a lot of time at GO evaluating PenPoint and its team. Every meeting with Bill was an event. He would engage and debate and ask and push. I know he is often described as a coach but he was so much more.

Patrick Keane: I was at Kleiner looking to raise $ for Sharethrough and ran into him and he gave me a bear hug and literally lifted me off the ground.

Bob Longo: One of my favorite memories of him was when I moved to Palo Alto and Bill and I attended St. Thomas Aquinas Church. Bill was a regular at the early 7:30 AM Mass, where I once heard someone fondly refer to him as, “The Mayor of the Back of the Church.” He would always come in fashionably late and stand in the back of the Church. And then after Mass, more people were lined up to shake Bill’’s hand and talk to him than the poor pastor.

Harrilyn Harris: I was a paralegal outside his office at Go. And when he would burst out of his office with enthusiasm and joy about the progress of our startup or whatever “bug report” he had just received from the engineers, it was like a magical moment on corporate row!

Sara McCaffree: I had the good fortune to meet Bill when he was coaching my bosses. As a lowly admin, I didn’t expect him to give me the time of day, much less hug me AND our receptionist! He made an impression wherever he went. He was unfailingly kind, respectful of everyone no matter their “station,” and had a personality that radiated for miles.

Marcia Kadanoff: I worked with Bill in three different settings. He was my first (of 13!) VPs of Marketing at Apple and the only one worth a damn. I tried to do a deal with him on behalf of Apple when he was CEO of Claris. While the deal never happened, he was instrumental in reshaping my thinking on business development and how to put together win:win deals, a template I have used throughout my career. I saw him go to GO as CEO and age 10 years in his first year there; even he was not immune to the stress of running a startup.

Karen Catlin: As important as he was to Silicon Valley bigwigs, Bill Campbell also made time for everyday people. Last year, my son was the producer for a high school radio show, and one of his responsibilities included bringing people into their itty bitty recording studio to share their career stories. I had worked for Bill at GO Corporation over 20 years earlier, and I offered to introduce my son to Bill. I thought to myself, the worst that can happen is he ignores me or says no. Well, he actually said yes. He spent almost an hour on that radio show, crammed into a studio no bigger than a powder room with three teenage boys. I will forever be grateful that he took the time to do so.

Bradley Horowitz: I mentioned that I was about to become a step-father, and he lit up and shared that he too was a step-father. And we spent the next 90 minutes talking about that role, what it meant to him, some things I should think about as I embarked on the journey. At no time did we touch on “business.” We spent the entire time together focused on what it means to be a father. This was a big part of what I took away — he believed and practiced that you couldn’t be a great leader without being a great person first. And so every interaction with him prioritized that.

Phil Shumway: Maybe not the first, but certainly the best sales leader at Apple Computer, Inc. during the mid 80s. All of us field sales people remember Campbell’s great attitude, outreach, and unique style during that time.

Mark McClain: I was saddened to see the news today. As a former Columbia football player (2010-2013), to say I owe a lot to Bill would be an understatement. During my time, Bill would often attend practice spending time shaking hands and chatting with players. As his health declined, he still showed an unbelievable commitment to the program even making an appearance this past October at the alumni homecoming dinner.

Lenny Mendonca: My best memories, however, were our quarterly beers; alternating between the Old Pro and my place in Half Moon Bay. Stories, laughter and talking about sports and beer. Always left feeling inspired. The last time I saw him at his house, I suspected it would be our last. I went back to my car and cried as I drove away.

Dennis McCleary: He was my position coach and recruited me from Buffalo to come to Boston College. My dad died when I was 11, so Coach was like a father to me while at BC. The stories of things he did for me were incredible. From ordering birthday cake for me during Spring Practice because my mom called him and asked him to do so, to him getting mad at me because I was wearing a denim jacket during February (because that’s all I had) — so he gave me an Athletic Dept. voucher for the bookstore to get a winter jacket (“You’re no good to me with a running nose!’) Tough love but effective.
My car broke down, he helped me. My mom couldn’t afford to stay in a hotel room for the games, so she stayed in my dorm room while we were off campus in a hotel. Somehow, Coach found out, I got hollered at and next game she was in a hotel. Hope the NCAA statute of limitations ran out.

Kevin Czinger: In the summer of 1978, I was working construction at the World Trade Center (Vista Hotel) in Manhattan. At the time, Bill coached football at Columbia and I played at Yale. I was sleeping on a friend’s apartment floor and sneaking into Columbia’s gym to lift. I was caught one evening by security. Bill walked up — I didn’t know who he was — and asked what was going on. When I explained my situation, not only did he get me out of a real difficulty, but also gave me a summer gym pass to the football lifting room and helped me find a room (with a bed!) at a Columbia football fraternity.

Bud Colligan: I worked for Bill as Director of Higher Education Marketing at Apple in 1985. I was new in my position and a conference I put on with all the bigwigs from higher ed didn’t go so well — just inexperience. I left immediately after the conference for vacation and worried the whole time I would be fired when I returned. Upon my return, Bill called me to his office. I thought, “Well, I guess this is it.” He asked me how my vacation was and then we turned to the conference. He wanted to know what I had learned. I told him and he looked at me and said, “Great, let’s get back at it.” I was so relieved when I walked out of his office!

Rob Chandhok: I’ve known Bill since he ran Claris (remember that?) and we connected partially by both being from Pittsburgh. Here’s a guy who would be hanging with some of the richest in the world, but when he got back to his home city he would head to Chiodo’s in Homestead, where drafts were $.50 and the folks from the steel mill would hang. Nothing ever got to his head.

Barbara Craycroft: I read your article on Mr. Campbell after hearing about his death this morning. Although I only met him once and very briefly, in one of his favorite bars (of course), I am just so saddened by his death. I hope that in addition to his accomplishments in business, you will mention the unconditional love that he had for his hometown. Bill’s legacy in our community, Steel Valley, is that he not only materially gave to us, but that he set such a great example for our kids. Ironically, just yesterday, my daughter and I were driving by the new “field of dreams” that Mr. Campbell financed on our way to a soccer game. She is really excited to be able to play on that field next fall in 9th grade. As we drove by, my daughter (who is 14 and also an aspiring singer) made the comment, “Mom, if I ever make it big, I’m going to be like Mr. Campbell.” I hope that whether she makes it big or not that she is a little like Mr. Campbell, never forgetting where she came from and inspired to give back no matter how big or small.


Apple: Bill Campbell was a coach and mentor to many of us at Apple, and a member of our family for decades as an executive, advisor and ultimately a member of our board. He believed in Apple when few people did and his contributions to our company, through good times and bad, cannot be overstated. We will miss his wisdom, his friendship, his humor and his love for life.

Intuit: It is with deep sadness that we share news that Bill Campbell, our beloved former chairman and chief executive officer, died this morning. Mr. Campbell was recognized throughout Silicon Valley, and at Intuit, for playing an inspirational role in building relationships that foster innovation in our industry.

Lee Bollinger, Columbia University: I cannot begin to compose a statement that fully expresses the grievous sense of loss we experienced early this morning when Bill Campbell passed away. Bill was a beloved alumnus, football coach, Trustee, former Chair of the Board of Trustees, and, above all, a friend and source of boundless joy and counsel to everyone who knew him. Columbia will forever remember Bill.


And here’s a three-minute tribute to Campbell around his induction to the Silicon Valley Hall of fame last fall:

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