Legendary Silicon Valley Mentor, 'The Coach' Bill Campbell Dead at 75

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Bill Campbell ENLARGE
Bill Campbell Photo: Stephen Lam/Reuters

Bill Campbell, a legendary mentor to some of Silicon Valley’s most important entrepreneurs and executives including Steve Jobs and Larry Page, died Monday morning at age 75. He had been suffering from cancer.

Mr. Campbell, who served as president, chief executive and chairman of financial software maker Intuit Inc., INTU 0.93 % became far better known for advising tech leaders. That activity earned him the nickname, “The Coach.”

Alphabet Inc. executive chairman Eric Schmidt recalled Campbell’s work in the early days of Google. “My immediate reaction was, why would I need a coach?” Mr. Schmidt said Monday morning in an interview. But Mr. Campbell had “extraordinary insight” into people, Mr. Schmidt said. When a meeting started, he embraced everyone in the room.

Mr. Campbell had an uncanny ability to pick leaders for jobs at the company, Mr. Schmidt said. And Mr. Campbell helped compose the company’s board of directors, as well as building the company’s culture.

Campbell gave his mentorship for free because he wanted to give back to the tech world and help others, Mr. Schmidt said.

Mr. Campbell’s guidance extended beyond the corner office and the boardroom. Ben Horowitz, co-founder of venture-capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, joined the chorus of eulogies on Monday. “Whenever I struggled with life, Bill was the person that I called, Mr. Horowitz wrote in a post on the online publication Medium. ”I didn’t call him, because he would have the answer to some impossible question. I called him, because he would understand what I was feeling 100%. He would understand me. I have never known anyone else who could do that like Bill.”

One of Mr. Campbell’s closest relationships in tech was with Apple Inc. AAPL -2.23 % He and Mr. Jobs were like brothers, Mr. Schmidt said.

Mr. Campbell joined Apple during Mr. Jobs’ initial stint at the company, serving as vice president of marketing starting in 1983. He joined Apple’s board shortly after Mr. Jobs returned to the company in 1997 and remained a director for 17 years, stepping down in 2014

“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,” Apple said in a statement Monday. “He believed in Apple when few people did and his contributions to our company, through good times and bad, cannot be overstated.”

Mr. Campbell acted discreetly when Apple quarreled with Google over the latter’s development of the Android operating system, which threatened Apple’s iPhone business. Determined not to appear to favor one side over the other, he arranged for former Google Senior Vice President Alan Eustace to chat with Mr. Jobs about the matter.

One of Mr. Campbell’s earliest coaching roles was as head football coach at his alma mater, Columbia University, in the 1970s.

He made his way to Intuit, serving as its president and chief executive officer from 1994 to 1998, and as acting chief executive officer from September 1999 until January 2000. He joined Intuit’s board in 1994 and became chairman in 1998. He stepped down from the board four months ago.

“Without Bill we would not be who we are today,” Scott Cook, Intuit’s co-founder and chairman of its executive committee, said in a statement. “I don’t think anyone had an impact as important and far-reaching on Silicon Valley’s leaders and culture. He made us all better. The world just dimmed.”

Mr. Campbell is survived by his wife, Eileen Bocci Campbell, and two adult children, Jim Campbell and Margaret Campbell.

Jay Greene at Jay.Greene@wsj.com



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