Bill Campbell, one of the most respected executives ever to work in Silicon Valley, has passed away. His formal biography, which includes items such as having been CEO of Intuit, doesn’t capture his indispensable contribution to the industry, which was his legendary role as an executive coach, sounding board, and all-around sage.
When I interviewed marketing icon Regis McKenna about his work with Apple, he told me that when Steve Jobs was forced out of Apple in 1985, only two people tried to patch up the working relationship between Apple’s cofounder and the company enough so he could stay. McKenna was one. The other was Campbell, an Apple executive vice president at the time.
Here’s what McKenna told me, in a quote I didn’t use in my article about him:
Two people on the executive staff, me and Bill Campbell, didn’t want Steve to go. We wanted him to stay and become CTO, and I think we were the only two. I think that would have been good for him, because even though he wasn’t technical, he had good technical vision and he knew how to hire and manage a team of engineers. He could build products that were excellent.
It didn’t work out, of course. Jobs left Apple, founded NeXT (the creator of Apple’s future software platform), and turned George Lucas’s computer-graphics division into Pixar. He returned to Apple with extraordinary skills he might not have developed if he’d never left. Still, it says something about Campbell that his instinct was to find a way to keep Jobs on board rather than pushing him out.