A Tribute to Silicon Valley's Bill Campbell
INTERVIEW EDGE • APRIL 2016
Written by Jim Kennedy, founder and advisor of Interview EDGE®.
Bill Campbell, a person the media labeled as the most influential background player in Silicon Valley, passed away this month at the age of 75. I knew Bill and worked with him in five of his companies, and have some personal insights on what an outstanding person and professional he was. My tribute acknowledges Bill's 30-plus year Silicon Valley career and goes back to my first contact with him while he was still a college football coach. His remarkable character became evident early in the game.
Bill was the youngest coach in the Ivy League when he took on that role at his alma mater, Columbia University. Back then, as the Human Resources Director at J. Walter Thompson Advertising in New York, my team and I considered hiring this young and already inspiring leader. I clearly remember his charisma in our interview. We recruited and convinced Bill to leave college sports for the excitement and challenge of the corporate world. I knew he had the competencies to make the transition despite his lack of corporate experience.
He joined our advertising agency in 1980 as an account manager for Eastman Kodak. I remember Bill at that time for his energy and optimism, and saw this demonstrated when he had to get to work at our midtown offices during a transit strike in New York City.
Since there were no buses or subway service, and few taxis to be hailed, Bill had to figure out how he could get to our offices at 45th and Lexington from his uptown apartment near 120th Street and Columbia University. Bill decided to walk the 75 blocks each way every day. What an inspiration to his co-workers who lived much closer to our offices than he did. Such early indicators of his character were demonstrated by what he did, not just what he said.
Kodak hired Bill away from J. Walter Thompson, then Apple hired him away from Kodak to become their vice president of sales. When I relocated our business to California, Bill hired my company to provide the first interviewing training at Apple. I saw first hand it was the staff's collective decision that had to approve our interview training. It required a team decision, not just an edict from him. His decision practices modeled his beliefs.
Bill gladly provided a personal endorsement on the back cover of my book, Getting Behind the Resume – Interviewing Today's Candidates, before its publication by Prentice Hall.
When Bill became president of Claris, the Apple software spin-off, we continued to support him and his organization with interviewing skills training. This also occurred at Silicon Valley start-ups, Go Corporation and Loudcloud. Whenever Bill ran into me delivering training at Intuit, he always gave me a warm greeting and an occasional "thank you" for recruiting him out of Columbia and into corporate America.
No matter how informal or brief was our contact in these roles, he always greeted me with friendly and upbeat optimism. What I always noticed when talking with Bill, even briefly, was that he maintained eye contact and left me with the impression he was really interested in what I had to say. One wonders how many interviewers today might have their interaction with a candidate described in such positive terms.
In his last role of impacting our business, Bill introduced me to Lazlo Bock, Senior VP of People Operations at Google. Once again we had Bill’s support for adding behavioral interviewing skills to the skill base of competent technical managers.
Bill Campbell was an amazing person. For starters, he was extremely smart. And, he was well educated, with bachelor's and master's degrees in economics from Columbia University. But it didn’t stop there. He was a good listener, empathetic and supportive. He had a low-key style, but underneath it was a special wisdom about people and the value of teamwork. He was well-known for this in Silicon Valley.
Bill served as an informal advisor to many companies and often insisted on not being paid. He helped shape leadership at Google and worked early on with Jeff Bezos of Amazon as well as Ben Horowitz and Marc Andreessen before they founded one of the country's top venture capital firms Andreessen Horowitz. He felt he wanted to pay back what was a debt to the nation's technology region.
Our connection to Bill Campbell spans six companies and 30 years of consistently witnessing his professional excellence. We promote his principles of sound management and tip our hat to him as a warm and inspiring leader.