On April 18th, 2016 we lost a true leader and innovator. Bill Campbell was an amazing Chairman and CEO in Silicon Valley. He worked with tech giants including Google, Apple, and Intuit. He played the role of mentor to major CEOs in Palo Alto and added value to the companies and people he worked with. His biggest strength was that he knew how to create and maintain emotional connections in his business relationships.
One example really stands out in my mind as to why Bill was such a valuable asset to the human condition in the tech industry. In 1992, when Bill started GO Corp., he raised more money than any other venture capital-backed startup ever had before. Soon after, however, he lost nearly all of the capital before selling the company to AT&T for almost nothing. Despite the fact that no one made money and the company was a front-page failure, employees considered GO to be one of the greatest experiences of their lives. Why? Because of Bill Campbell.
People at GO described Bill as a genuine, caring, and sincere human being.
“He was not only our leader,” some recalled, “he was our coach, our friend, and a true inspiration.”
Everything Bill did was with the intention of creating value for others. Even John Doerr, who lost a ton of money at GO, thought that Bill was a remarkable leader. He was so impressed by the way Bill worked with people that when the founder of Intuit needed a CEO, John suggested Bill Campbell for the job, which turned out to be a huge success! That was the power of Bill’s emotional ability to create emotional safety for others.
Clearly Bill had strength in creating human connections. Even when things were bad, his employees and colleagues felt safe with him because he had connected with them on such a deep level.
He was a creator of safe environments. Put simply, he was a people person. In the world of uncertainty that surrounded GO Corp., employees and others knew that they could rely on Bill to protect their interests. His sense of consistency created stability for them and they knew that they could always rely on him in the times when they were in doubt. As a leader, Bill put his people first. It was evident in his conversations, his decisions, and his actions.
After his death, many of the people who worked closely tweeted or released statements with their thoughts on Bill. These statements show just how important he was to the industry and how he made emotional connections a priority.
Google CEO, Sundar Pichai said, “He had a very big impact on our company, made us all smile.”
Dick Costolo tweeted, “Just hearing the news about Bill Campbell. Horrible. Called me on my last day at Twitter & had both the funniest & most insightful comments.”
These are just a few of the hundreds of statements showing how close and impactful Bill Campbell was to his colleagues. His attention to the human condition made him a unique and powerful director and CEO.
For this reason, Bill will be deeply missed. His brand of leadership serves as an example of what happens when you know how to create emotional connection. We send our deepest condolences to his friends and family and take the opportunity to learn from his legacy.