Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Bill Campbell, CEO Whisperer

Image source: businessinsider.com

Bill Campbell’s career in leadership began as head football coach at New York’s Columbia University in the 70s (where he also co-founded the Old Blue Rugby Club). Since then he has coached some of the world’s top executives over the course of his career, and in June stepped down from the Board of Apple after a 17-year stint. He remains Chairman of Intuit, having been CEO 1994-98.

Despite his tendency to decline interviews and stay out of the spotlight, Bill’s influence behind the scenes has been vital to the success of many CEOs and companies. He is utterly humble, downplaying his role as a coach to the likes of Steve Jobs, Eric Schmidt and John Doerr. He even referred to himself in a New York Times interview by Miguel Helft as “a third-party Jiminy Cricket”, making it clear that the CEOs he advises make the decisions and deserve the credit.

According to Bill, the entire answer to a company’s success lies in great products and great people. Sounds simple enough, but if you get these elements right all the other matters take care of themselves.

To turn the tables on Bill, what makes him a good coach? He calls himself an ‘operating guy’ – helping CEOs think about what their company should look like and how they should organize it. He supports innovation by bringing the right people into the room and ensuring that the ‘lunatic fringe’ has an opportunity to contribute. It’s about making sure the right people are sitting around the table, and empowering them.

Bill is definitely more CEO Whisperer to Jiminy Cricket. He may not be a household name, but he’s made a contribution that’s significant and worth recognizing. According to e-rugbynews, ‘he remains a friendly, down-to-earth guy, and is part owner of a bar in Palo Alto called the Old Pro, where his raucous weekly get-togethers regularly attract some of the most powerful people in Silicon Valley.” Sounds like a great candidate for the US edition of Richard Hytner’s book Consiglieri: Leading from the Shadows (Richard doesn’t know he’s writing this yet).

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