There’s an old saying in football: It isn’t the hours you put in but what you put in the hours.
Apparently, Bill Campbell — a widely revered former Columbia University football coach who went on to run Intuit for four years in the 1990s and only retired as its chairman in January — put something magical into his hours with entrepreneurs.
A great many of them are grieving today, following Campbell’s passing early this morning at age 75. The cause was cancer, says his family.
Earlier today, founder-investor Ben Horowitz seemingly captured what many founders have tried to describe when characterizing their relationship with Campbell, writing, “Whenever I struggled with life, Bill was the person that I called. 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. Be the person who would understand me all the time. I must have called him a 100 different times, because I knew he would feel what I was feeling.”
The sentiment was widespread. Campbell, a Pennsylvania native who donated nearly $20 million to his hometown school district over the years and later in life coached eighth graders at Sacred Heart in Atherton, Ca., was known as “Coach” to many of the smartest people in Silicon Valley.
These include Alphabet chair Eric Schmidt (who tried over the years and without success to talk Campbell into a board seat at Google) and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who had more luck.
Indeed, according to a 2014 Fortune interview with Campbell, Jobs and Campbell were neighbors in Palo Alto and Jobs would frequently walk to Campbell’s house and either knock on the door or sit by the pool in his backyard. Shortly after his return to Apple in 1997, Jobs “came by one day, and we sat on a bench by the pool,” Campbell told Fortune. “And he said, ‘I’d like you to join the Apple board.’”
Added Campbell, “The only time I’ve had a rush like that was when I was asked to be a trustee of Columbia University. I said, without hesitation, ‘For sure.’”
Said Jobs of Campbell in a 2008 piece in Fortune, “There’s something deeply human about him.”
In a statement Apple gave us earlier today, the company called Campbell 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.”
Wrote Schmidt earlier, in his own tribute to Campbell: “Bill Campbell, our very close friend, died this morning. A man with a huge heart, who hugged everyone he met with, was more than a mentor. He helped us build Google and in countless ways made our success possible. We started with him as an external coach but he quickly became the internal management expert. He attended our staff meetings, met with management, and spent countless hours with our leadership. He helped build our Board of Directors, and helped build our culture. He worked very very closely with our founders in every possible way.
“His contribution to the success of Google and now Alphabet is incalculable. His legacy is the smile that he created on everyone’s face, and the great leaders of the Valley whom he coached. Bill was a truly gifted man, and the world lost a great leader this morning.”