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Bill Campbell played an instrumental role in the growth of several prominent companies. He was there at the start of Google and Apple. Plus, he developed deep relationships with Silicon Valley visionaries, including Steve Jobs, Larry Page, and Eric Schmidt.
Trillian Dollar Coach tells the story of Bill Campbell through the mouths of decade-long leaders at Google, Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg, and Alan Eagle. Each of these men experienced how Bill built trusting relationships, fostered personal growth, inspired courage, and resolved tensions. To honor their mentor, who passed away in 2016, they have written the Trillian Dollar Coach to offer his wisdom in an essential guide.
About Eric Schmidt
Eric Schmidt is an American businessman and software engineer. He is currently chair of the US Department of Defense’s Defense Innovation Advisory Board. He is known for being the CEO of Google from 2001 to 2011, executive chairman of Google from 2011 to 2015, executive chairman of Alphabet Inc. from 2015 to 2017, and Technical Advisor at Alphabet from 2017 to 2020. In 2017, Forbes ranked Schmidt as the 119th-richest person in the world, with an estimated wealth of $11 billion.
About Jonathan Rosenberg
Jonathan Rosenberg is the former Senior Vice President of Products at Google and current advisor to the Alphabet Inc. management team and board. Before joining Google, Rosenberg was Vice President of Software for palmOne, a handheld computer and communications solution provider. He joined Google in 2002 and oversaw the company’s consumer, advertiser, and partner products, including Search, Ads, Gmail, Android, Apps, and Chrome. While at Google, Rosenberg managed many noteworthy employees, including Marissa Mayer.
About Alan Eagle
Alan Eagle has been a Director of Executive Communications at Google since joining the company in 2007. In his current role, he oversees Google sales programs and the company’s Partner Plex client experience center. Before that, he was the communications lead for the Google product team. He developed speeches and other communications for executives, including Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg, Marissa Mayer, and Susan Wojcicki.
From Silicon Valley to the Football Fields
Silicon Valley is renowned for genius university dropouts who swap studying for revolutionizing the world from their garages. Subsequently, Silicon Valley is dominated by people in their 20s and 30s. However, Bill Campbell took a unique route to become one of technology’s greatest pioneers. In fact, Bill Campbell did not start his Silicon Valley career until he was already in his forties.
Bill Campbell was born in Homestead, Pennsylvania, in 1940. Bill was a talented and hard-working student who had a drive for success from a young age. He was also a role model for his fellow students. For example, as a teenager, he would write for the school newspaper and remind his peers of the importance of working hard and getting good grades. As well as being academically talented, Bill had a strong passion for football. This passion continued into his college years at Columbia University. After arriving in New York in 1958, Bill immediately joined the college football team. Bill applied the same determination and fearlessness to football as he did in his studies. Firstly, he was considerably smaller, by some margin, than his teammates. Standing at only 5’10 and weighing 165 pounds, he was already at a considerable disadvantage. However, this never stopped Bill from flying into a tackle. This courage and resolve led to him being given the nickname ‘Ballsy.’ Additionally, his ability to lead by example provided him with the opportunity to captain his side. Under his captaincy, the Columbia University Lions won the Ivy League title in 1961. To highlight how effective a leader Bill Campbell was, the Lions have failed to win this title since.
Although Bill Campbell’s football career would not persist, he did maintain a role within football post-graduation. After graduating from Columbia University, Bill was offered the assistant coach’s role for Boston College’s football team. Between 1964 and 1974, Bill was considered one of the most capable coaches within college football. He was even offered a post at Penn State, which was coached by America’s top college football coach, Joe Paterno. However, Bill chose loyalty over notoriety and decided to return to Columbia instead. Although a commendable decision, Columbia was in a terrible position when Bill took over. Their facilities were in poor shape, and they were terribly underfunded. Subsequently, Bill was unable to repeat the heroics he had shown as captain of this team. They lost 41 of his 53 games in charge and were humiliated in his final game at the hands of Rutgers, losing 69-0. After this result, Bill decided to resign and move to another profession.
California Was the Start of Bill’s Business Career
Aged 39, Bill made the difficult decision to quit his job as a football coach and move into the business world. Bill started his business career at an ad agency called J. Walter Thompson. As with all pursuits he put his mind to, Bill was an immediate success. His coworkers and the ad agency’s clients adored him. One of J. Walter Thompson’s clients was Kodak. After interacting with Bill, Kodak immediately offered him a top job as head of consumer products in Europe. The speed at which Bill was promoted to this level was unique. However, Kodak saw his potential.
A couple of years later, Bill received a call from an old contemporary from Columbia. John Sculley had just left Pepsi to become the CEO of a tech start-up called Apple. John spoke passionately about this company’s potential and managed to convince Bill to come and work for him. Bill made this decision for a few reasons. Of course, Bill knew that John Sculley was an intelligent man who knew when a business was destined for great things. However, Bill was also willing to make this move as he understood that career progression in the corporate world would be difficult for a former football coach. California, where Apple was and is located, was different. California was well known for being a great place for talented individuals to make a name for themselves based on potential rather than career history.
As seen in the rest of his career, Bill progressed much faster than others. Within just nine months, Bill was already the vice president of sales. Plus, he was given the responsibility of overseeing the launch of Apple’s new flagship computer, the Macintosh. As VP of sales, Bill Campbell made a decision that has arguably had the most significant impact on Apple’s success. In 1984, Bill decided to buy an advertising spot for Apple during the Super Bowl. The advertisement, designed by Bill, was inspired. Bill played on the idea of George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984. The advert showed a young woman running from armed guards, before bursting into a monumental chamber filled with grey-uniformed men with shaved heads watching a “Big Brother” figure giving a speech on a large screen. As she tosses a mallet at the screen, causing it to explode, a narrator promises that “1984 won’t be like 1984.” Steve Jobs loved the drafted advert. Apple’s board hated it, as they worried it was too controversial. Steve Jobs overruled these complaints and went ahead with Bill’s advert for the Superbowl. The result was arguably the most famous advert of all time and a new era of Superbowl advertising.
Bill Returns to Coaching and Mentoring
“He believed in striving for the best idea, not consensus (“I hate consensus!” he would growl), intuitively understanding what numerous academic studies have shown: that the goal of consensus leads to “groupthink” and inferior decisions.”– Eric Schmidt
Bill’s first stint of working with Apple came to an end in 1990. Although he enjoyed his time at Apple, his spin-off venture, Claris, was not made public by Apple. Hence, he decided to move elsewhere so that he could pursue his personal innovations. Next, Bill would spend approximately a decade spread between working at the tablet computer start-up, GO, software manufacturer, Claris, and attempting to work as a business coach.
Bill’s first client as a business coach was Apple. This relationship was re-established due to Bill’s quality of loyalty. Bill had been loyal to Columbia when turning down several offers to re-join his old football team as a coach. Similarly, when Steve Jobs was being forced out of Apple, Bill was one of the only prominent team members to defend Jobs and argue that the company could not lose him. Steve Jobs would later be reinstated as the CEO of Apple, in 1997, and repaid Bill’s loyalty. Jobs made Bill one of the company’s directors. Bill would retain this job until 2014.
Jobs also entrusted Bill with his most challenging dilemmas. Whenever Jobs needed advice or somebody to talk to, he would always call Bill. Working together with Jobs, Bill helped Apple grow from bankruptcy into becoming one of the world’s most powerful companies.
Bill and Jobs would go on Sunday afternoon walks together around the Palo Alto neighborhood. As Silicon Valley is a relatively small community, word spread about Bill’s critical role in Steve Jobs’ life. In 2001, Eric Schmidt decided he wanted to get to know Bill Campbell better. At this time, Schmidt was a software engineer and entrepreneur who had just been named CEO of a small start-up called Google. Schmidt had been a high achiever his whole life and was skeptical of an ex-football coach’s wisdom.
It did not take long for Schmidt to change his mind about Bill. They immediately clicked. Over the coming 15 years, Bill would meet with Schmidt and other Google leaders every week. Again, following Bill’s influence and support, Google became one of the world’s most powerful companies.
Bill Championed Core Values and Broke Ties
In 2001, just as Bill started working with Google, the company was integrating a whole new approach to management. The co-founder, Larry Page, had become fed up with top-down interference in creative projects. Subsequently, he made the bold decision of removing all managers from the company. Larry called this a disorg model. At first, this approach seemed to be working. However, Bill did not believe this success was sustainable without management.
After several conversations between Bill and Larry, Bill suggested that Larry asked the company’s engineers what they thought. Every engineer stated they prefer having managers. The engineers required managers to resolve stalemates. The engineers’ equal footing meant they could never move on if disagreements emerged about which project to prioritize. These stalemates were impacting on their productivity as a team. Although the equal footing allowed them to be more creative, they were struggling to implement these innovations. Implementation was vital for Google, as they are a search engine based on logistics.
Bill identified a solution that allowed Google’s engineers to be creative and allowed Google to implement these ideas sustainably. The solution focused on core values. If the engineers struggled to agree on something, then it was the manager’s responsibility to remind them of the company’s first principles. These principles were the values that defined Google’s mission and purpose.
Effective Leaders Are Willing to Show Their Emotions
There is a common idea within the business world that effective leaders cannot show their emotions within the workplace. Specifically, there is a belief that leaders who show their emotions are less competent. However, Bill bucked this trend and showed that emotions could be an effective tool as a leader.
Bill was famous for his personal warmth and informality. He would give his colleagues hugs, wouldn’t be scared to blow a kiss to a colleague on the other side of a meeting room, and was never afraid to speak in a profane way. These emotions showed that he cared about the people he worked with. Bill was always willing to drop everything to help people if they were in trouble. For example, Bill visited Steve Jobs daily when he was hospitalized with cancer.
The authors highlight that Bill is not an anomaly in the effectiveness of emotion for leadership. Instead, a 2014 study by leadership and HR experts Sigal Barsade and Olivia O’Neill found that organizations that foster a love built on companionship have:
- Higher rates of employee satisfaction
- Better team performance levels
- Lower absenteeism
Showing your emotions at work might seem like a scary proposition. There are several simple ways of creating a more open, accepting environment. When Bill was working at Apple, he ensured that the board responded to presentations they liked by getting out of their chairs and clapping. As Apple’s Phil Schiller recalls, that was like a parent showing his appreciation for a child.
Bias Prevents Talents from Flourishing
“Bill looked for four characteristics in people. The person has to be smart, not necessarily academically but more from the standpoint of being able to get up to speed quickly in different areas and then make connections. Bill called this the ability to make “far analogies.” The person has to work hard, and has to have high integrity. Finally, the person should have that hard-to-define characteristic: grit. The ability to get knocked down and have the passion and perseverance to get up and go at it again.”– Eric Schmidt
Bill started his business career in an era that was almost entirely dominated by men. Deb Biondolillo was one of the few women in a senior position in Silicon Valley, as head of HR at Apple. While working at Apple, Bill noticed that Deb would always choose a chair at the back of the room rather than at the conference table. After noticing this, Bill went out of his way to invite Deb to a front-row seat during the company’s weekly staff meetings. Subsequently, one of Apple’s executives, Al Eisenstate, sat down and queried why Deb had sat down at the table. Bill defended Deb and indicated that he had encouraged her to come and sit at the table.
Bill’s decision to allow Deb to sit at the conference table would have been considered unorthodox during that time. However, it was not an unorthodox decision from Bill. Bill knew that winning was all about selecting the best players. It did not matter who they were; it just mattered what they could do. Academic papers have since supported Bill’s business approach. For example, a 2010 study published in the journal Science found that the highest performing teams have higher IQs, are more emotionally intelligent, and have more women.
Despite Bill excelling by incorporating women into his teams, and research supporting this approach, there is still much more work to be done in the tech world. A 2016 Equal Employment Opportunity Commission report found that 20 percent of tech executives are women. Hence, there is still a need for businesses to take steps toward integrating more talented women into their teams. One of Bill’s favored approaches was to encourage mentoring programs. He learned this firsthand while sitting in on meetings between senior women executives in Silicon Valley.
Incorporate Trust Into Your Company
“Managers create this environment through support, respect, and trust. Support means giving people the tools, information, training, and coaching they need to succeed. It means continuous effort to develop people’s skills. Great managers help people excel and grow. Respect means understanding people’s unique career goals and being sensitive to their life choices. It means helping people achieve these career goals in a way that’s consistent with the needs of the company. Trust means freeing people to do their jobs and to make decisions. It means knowing people want to do well and believing that they will.”– Eric Schmidt
The authors describe trust as a willingness to take chances because you have positive expectations for someone else’s behavior. They provide an example of Bill’s time working for the software company, Intuit. The board was split across two opinions. One side wanted to write off recent losses and focus on long-term growth. However, the other side, led by Bill, felt that tolerating short-term operational failures would mean there wouldn’t be a long term. This deadlock between the two sides eventually ended when the company’s head of sales, John Doerr, expressed that they should back the coach’s opinion. The only way this was possible was because people trusted Bill.
Bill gained people’s trust by listening. Google’s computer scientist, Alan Eustace, described Bill’s way of listening as free-form listening. Bill would give people his undivided attention and would ask thoughtful questions at the right times. He would never aim to fit his own opinion into the conversation. Again, Bill’s approach is supported by research. A 2016 Harvard Business Review paper found that all great listeners adopt this approach. Plus, respectful and good listeners are considered more trustworthy, as they trigger spontaneous insights. These insights heighten the speaker’s feelings of competence, belonging, and autonomy.
Trust also allows people to focus on the factors that matter. When there is trust between coworkers, then the issues at hand are being dealt with. In contrast, a team without trust can encourage emotions getting in the way of objectivity and personal attacks.
As the authors know from their own experience working in a company molded by Bill’s philosophy, the best answers usually emerge when you talk things out honestly.
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