Re/code today reports that Silicon Valley icon and longtime Google advisor Bill “The Coach” Campbell has passed away at age 75 after a long battle with cancer. The unfortunate news comes from “many prominent tech players,” following earlier unconfirmed reports. Campbell was a mentor to many tech leaders, including Steve Jobs, Larry Page, Eric Schmidt, and Jeff Bezos.
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Campbell’s “The Coach” nickname originated after he was a football coach at Columbia University, where he also served on the board of directors. In a post on Google+, Eric Schmidt acknowledged the passing of Campbell with a heartfelt message.
Schmidt said that while Campbell started as an “external coach” for Google, he quickly became the “internal management expert” and helped build the company’s board of directors. Schmidt called his contribution to the success of Google “incalculable.”
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 everyones 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.
Campbell predicted back in 2013 that wearables would become a trend in the technology industry, teasing that he would expect “a lot of things going on with the application of technology to really intimate things.” At the time, Campbell pointed to Google Glass as an early example.
After he stepped down from Apple’s board in 2014, Campbell told a story during an interview with Fortune centered around how he was helping Google and Apple at the same time, something Steve Jobs wasn’t a fan of:
Campbell has walked a sometimes not-so-fine line during his business coaching career managing potential conflicts of interest. The highest-profile danger zone was his dual role on the Apple board and advising Schmidt and Google. “Steve would say, ‘If you’re helping them you’re hurting me.’ He would yell at me,” recalls Campbell, whose normal banter typically needs to be sanitized for most publications. “I’d say, ‘I can’t do HTML, come on. I’m just coaching them on how to run their company better.’” He continued in both roles for years.
Campbell played an instrumental role in the technology industry, especially for someone who couldn’t “do HTML.” He’ll be dearly missed by everyone and truly left his mark on Apple, Google, and the world as a whole.