How a football coach became Silicon Valley’s go-to guru
- Fast Company
They’re still talking about Bill Campbell, the ex-football coach who came to work at Apple in 1983 and ended up one most effective, beloved, and storied players in Silicon Valley history. For
And when the situation was more dire, Bill always made himself available to the families. When Steve Jobs became incapacitated by cancer, Bill visited him nearly every day, whether Steve was at home, in the office, or in the hospital. Phil Schiller, Apple’s longtime head of marketing, worked with and was friends with both of them. He recalls, “Bill showed me that when you have a friend who is injured or ill or needs you in some way, you drop everything and just go. That’s what you do, that’s how you really show up. That’s what Bill would do. Just go.”
In our own lives, we don’t try to match the way in which Bill loved people. We don’t hug; we don’t go quite as deep into people’s family lives. We don’t call their fathers! If you don’t naturally have as big a heart as Bill’s, faking it won’t work. Repeat: Don’t fake it! But most of us like our coworkers. We care about them, but we check all but the most sanitized feelings at the door when we walk into the office. Bill taught us to do the opposite. Bring it in! Ask the questions about the family, learn people’s names, then ask more questions, then look at the pictures, and, above all, care.
The percussive clap
Imagine you are presenting a new product to the Apple board, sometime in the 2000s. Perhaps you are nervous as you walk into the room. There’s Steve Jobs, there’s Al Gore, and in between them sits Bill Campbell. You start talking about the product; maybe it’s the new iPad or iPhone, maybe it’s the latest Mac operating system. You talk about the timing, when the product will be released. Then you hold your breath and give the demo.
Sometime around then, the clapping starts. “Bill would clap and cheer, give double fist pumps, he would get so excited!” Phil Schiller recalls. “He provided an emotional reaction to the products, not a dry, boring, revenue-driven board reaction. He’d be out of his seat, an explosion of emotion.”
The effect of this wasn’t so much about the approval of the product. It was about approval of the team. “It always felt like your uncle or dad just gave you appreciation and respect,” Phil says. “That’s one of the biggest things I learned from Bill. Don’t just sit your butt in the seat. Get up and support the teams, show the love for the work they are doing.”
“Everything Bill brought to the boardroom came from a place in his heart,” says Bob Iger, CEO of Disney and an Apple board member. But there was another purpose behind the enthusiasm besides showing love for the team. “Once he started the applause,” Bob says, “it was hard to disagree. The applause felt like it was coming from the board, not just Bill. It was his way of cheerleading, but also of moving things along.”