“The Coach” of Silicon Valley, who mentored Steve Jobs and Larry Page, has died

Bill Campbell in 2012.
Bill Campbell in 2012.
Image: REUTERS/Stephen Lam
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Bill Campbell, who died early this morning at age 75, came to be known as “The Coach,” both on the field and off.

He coached Columbia’s football team from 1974-79 after graduating from the university. And despite never having held a desk job before then, he rebooted his career in Silicon Valley, where he served as the chief executive of three tech companies, including Intuit, and continued his role as coach, advising well-known tech leaders, including Steve Job and Larry Page.

His death was first reported by Recode. In a statement, Campbell’s family confirmed that he “passed peacefully in his sleep after a long battle with cancer.”

Campbell has been referred to as “the most important executive you’ve probably never heard of.” He was the longest-serving director on Apple’s board, a fixture for 17 years before stepping down in 2014.  Not long after joining Apple’s board, John Doerr of venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers asked if he would advise a young Jeff Bezos at Amazon. Over the years, he’s mentored Eric Schmidt, Evan Williams, Dick Costolo, and Tim Armstrong, among others.

As a mentor, Campbell emphasized investing in innovation and empowering engineers to be creative. He believed that CEOs should be closely involved in the management of their companies, and, subsequently, many firms he’s mentored have lacked a chief operating officer. “CEOs ultimately have to make the decisions and be responsible for them,” he said in a 2008 interview with Fortune.

With news of his passing, there was an outpouring of emotion from prominent tech leaders on Twitter today:

Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google’s parent company, Alphabet

Dick Costolo, former CEO of Twitter

Tim Armstrong, CEO of AOL

Jason Rosenthal, CEO of Lytro and early Netscape employee

Evan Doll, Flipboard cofounder and early iPhone engineer

Andy Rachleff, cofounder of Benchmark Capital and Wealthfront

Michael Abbott, general partner at Kleiner Perkins