“Don’t cry because it’s over; smile because it happened.”
It was 2002 and my oldest daughter Maggie had started going to a new school — Sacred Heart in Atherton. I received an invitation to go to a San Francisco Giants game with Dads and Daughters and thought it would be a good idea to go, since I didn’t know any of the parents or kids yet.
I showed up Sunday morning at the school with Maggie and outside the bus ready to take us to the ballgame was this guy with a baseball cap and blue jeans, who cracks open a Bud Light and hands it to me and says, “Hi, my name is Bill Campbell. What’s your name?”
As we are watching the game, he asked me what I did for a living. I puffed my chest out and said, “I’m the CEO of this hot, new investment bank in the City”.
I then asked Bill what he did. He said, “Oh, I’m retired”.
I asked him what he did before he retired. He said, “I was in the Software Industry”.
I then asked him what Company he had worked. He replied, “Intuit“.
What did you do at Intuit, I asked. Bill responded, “I was the CEO”.
As I slumped further and further into my seat, I remember thinking how could I be so clueless not to know who this guy was because clearly everybody else in the entire stadium did.
That was the beginning of an amazing friendship that changed my life. Bill passed away peacefully in his sleep this past Monday surrounded by his Family after battling cancer for the past couple of years.
It’s impossible to overstate the impact Bill’s life has had on so many people and so many things. Simply put, I’ve never known anybody like Bill Campbell, and I’m quite sure I never will.
Many people now know the incredible story of “the Coach of the Valley” as it’s been chronicled in a number of publications, with his death on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. The New Yorker ran a tribute about Bill, and the Mercury News published a mother’s story on the impact Bill had on her son. I wrote about Bill last Fall in A 2 Apple marking his 75th birthday as he was very sick, and I wanted him to see in print how much I loved and cared about him. He, of course, was pissed off I did that as he hated seeing his name in print anywhere. But I didn’t care — I wanted him and others to see it.
BTW, Bill was a faithful reader of A 2 Apple, usually providing the first commentary on that week’s missive. Normally he was positive and supportive about what I wrote, but he also would let me know when he thought I was nuts.
Bill cared so deeply about people, and it had nothing to do with what your status was or what they could do for him. Yes, he was the most sought after CEO advisor in Silicon Valley, having “coached” Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Eric Schmidt and Larry Page to name a few, but what defined him was his passion for helping others, and his love for his family and friends.
Twelve years ago, Bill was asked to Coach the 8th Grade Boys Team at Sacred Heart, given he had been the Head Football Coach at Columbia in the late ’70’s and his daughter Maggie was at the school. (Yes, we both have daughters named Maggie). Bill knew I had played college football, so he asked if I’d help. He also asked my now GSV Partner Mark Flynn who had played on a National Championship team at St. John’s to coach, as well.
For the next twelve seasons we coached the Boys in the Fall and the Girls “Powderpuff” football in the Spring. Having the privilege to be an Assistant Coach to Bill was something special. He connected with these kids in such a profound way. One of the things all of us took great pride in was when many of the boys and girls at their eight grade graduation would say the most memorable experience they had at Sacred Heart was playing football for Bill.
When we started coaching, very few of the boys went on to play high school football. Given the experience and success Bill gave the kids in the program, now almost all the boys we coach go on to play High School football. Incredibly, for two of the last three years, little private school Sacred Heart has played for the State of California High School football championship. Bill would never take the credit for this and for sure, the High School coaches have done a sensational job, but it is fair to say it is unlikely you would have seen the program become what it has become without Bill’s magic.
I think it’s also fair to say there wasn’t a person in Silicon Valley whose time was in more demand than Bill’s, and in fact, his calendar was pretty much booked solid years in advance. Yet in the Autumn and in the Spring, from 4:30PM to 6:00PM, you knew where to find him — on the football field at Sacred Heart. It was routine that his iPhone would ring on the practice field displaying Steve Jobs or Eric Schmidt, and Bill would just glance at it and then hit the red circle.
Bill was incredibly generous in helping me with my businesses, first ThinkEquity and now GSV. His ability to cut to the heart of the matter was unbelievable. But mostly, just knowing that Bill was there whenever you needed him gave me enormous confidence.
One of the things Bill loved to do was put on “coaching panels” at conferences we held to share insights with entrepreneurs. Everyone asked Bill about leadership and I’ll never forget his response. He said, “your title doesn’t make you a leader, your people do”. And for your people to view you as the leader, they need to: 1) trust you 2) believe in you and 3) know you care about them … Bill was a sensational leader because he cared so much.
What made Bill so unique wasn’t his incredible accomplishments or all the fancy people who wanted Bill to give them advice. It’s that he treated everybody with intense love and kindness. It didn’t matter to Bill if you were the CEO making company level decisions or just a kid trying to figure out what you wanted to do after college…he treated everybody the same.
He gave you real advice that came with a bear hug that made you feel special and energized as only Bill could. Even when Bill was diagnosed with cancer, he didn’t retreat. He kept on coaching companies and inspiring people.
Given how genuinely kind, fun and generous Bill was, you might think he was easy going. That wasn’t Bill. He needed to control every situation. He slept only a few hours a night, and he had a list for everything.
He had his TGIF list. His Pittsburgh list. His Columbia list. His Google list. His Apple list. His Intuit list. His day after Thanksgiving list. His Whitefish, Montana list. His Boston College list. His Sacred Heart list. His Yips and Salsa list. His Super Bowl list. His Football Foundation list. His Opening Day list. And he had his s#!t list. How did you get on it? If you were a phony, a jerk, or if you didn’t show up for one of the events Bill put on to bring friends together. (Disclosure: GSV owns shares in Google, Apple)
The Old Pro in Palo Alto has become famous as the place Bill liked to gather his friends, and it was a place Bill loved to go. People would show up at the Old Pro and hang around “Coaches Corner” just to try to get a few minutes of the Coaches time…bad idea. The Old Pro was off limits for anything but telling stories, laughing and hanging out. When in Homestead, Duke’s played a similar role, and Old Town in Manhattan was where Bill liked to throw cold ones back with his Columbia buddies. Wherever you were with Bill, there was a never ending supply of cheeseburgers, chicken wings and Bud Light (“Augie made another good batch!”).
Bill’s influence will be felt in so many places in so many ways. He was a champion for women in Silicon Valley and the LGBT community way before that was the cool thing to do. His giving millions and millions to countless charities anonymously and avoiding being in the media showed humility. Perhaps his greatest lesson was how to Pay it Forward.
When Bill first started coaching companies, he refused compensation of any kind. He made it clear he was helping companies because people had been so helpful to him in his career, he wanted to pay them back by paying it forward. He felt that if he was being paid, it would take away why he was doing it and make him feel obligated for the wrong reasons. Marc Andreessen famously went to the extreme of threatening that he’d donate what he was trying to pay Bill to the Republican Party if Bill wouldn’t accept the stock he wanted to pay him. (Bill relented but gave the money to charity).
I believed that I was one of Bill’s best friends. One of the most remarkable things about Bill was there was a thousand people who felt the same way.
Friends that went back to where he grew up in Homestead, Pennsylvania. Friends from Columbia, where he was the Captain of the last Lions team to be Ivy League Champions, Head Football Coach and later Chairman of the Board of Trustees. Recently, Columbia retired Bill’s number 67 for all sports and named the athletic building The Campbell Sports Center … his friends quickly had it renamed “Ball’s Hall” to reflect what Bill’s nickname was to his Columbia buddies.
Friends from the football fraternity that admired Bill so much. The award that goes to College Football’s top player, leader and scholar is named the “Campbell Trophy”.
Friends from Silicon Valley, where he has been a driving force for 35 years.
And friends from the Old Pro, the Sports Bar in Palo Alto, where TGIF was legendary.
We already miss Bill greatly. But we will never forget him and his impact will be with us forever.
Please check out our tribute to Bill Campbell when he was inducted into the 2015 Global Silicon Valley Hall of Fame.