I haven’t blogged in a while (a LONG time), but I just came from Bill Campbell’s memorial service at Sacred Heart in Atherton this morning. In brief, it was amazing. Literally thousands of people came out to remember and to celebrate him. Stories were shared that, frankly, weren’t at all surprising. And I realized why: I really barely knew Bill but I knew him. Those brief encounters while working at Intuit, those board meetings for Homestead and Curious, those were filled with Bill as he actually was. He was warm, caring, encouraging, loving, feisty, and (like his service) amazing.
Honestly, I know that I’m barely in Bill’s circle, if at all. We shared a board meeting every 1-2 months, and he knew my name. There are stories everywhere of how he made everyone feel special, everyone feel included, everyone feel like part of his family, and I’m no different. He always greeted me with a warm hug and a friendly laugh, and gave me crap because my red Vans clashed with my orange shirt. I do feel truly fortunate that I had even those few moments with him, as I’m positive everyone who spent time with him feels.
While sitting at his memorial with the thousands of people who came to say their good-byes, I was stunned by how this one man touched so many people positively. I reflected on how I was touched by him and wondered how I could carry the best parts of his influence on. One of the eulogists said it best when he said (I’m paraphrasing) that we can’t even dream to do all of what Bill did, but we can all emulate the best parts of Bill.
(Here come the bullet points.)
When we shared poor numbers in board meetings, or biz dev deals that fell through, or delayed product launches, he was always ready to pick us up. But it wasn’t bland platitudes; he’d take the time to get in one swift kick at us while we were down, but then build us back up. He knew what we needed to hear, and we got it: we did something stupid and got knocked down but we have to get off the mat.
In one board meeting (probably in several), after sharing some disappointing results, Bill let us know the stupid things we did, then just as quickly turned the corner. “But look where you are; you have this, and this, and this. This is going to be a billion dollar company. Don’t fuck it up.”
Keep getting off the mat, and we’ll be fine…
Every meeting was met with Bill’s amazing energy, all the way to the last board meeting we had with him last month. One frequent joke at the memorial was that he was always late, and he was, but we all knew that it didn’t really start until Bill showed up. He would come in like a tornado, spinning up a whirlpool of hugs, curse words, insults, and stories of his meetings with the tech aristocracy.
Good? Good. Now everyone’s properly pumped up to get the best we can out of each other.
Bill was a man of religious faith and I am not. But he also had faith in people, and we could all use a little more of that. He believed people have the capacity to focus on their ambitions, to work very hard, to do great things. That’s what coaching is, and that’s why he’s the Coach of Silicon Valley. He always believed in you and that gave you the faith to believe in yourself. He always made me believe I could do it, and I can’t imagine he knew me much at all, but I can say it bolsters my faith in what I’m doing when I know Bill Campbell’s in my corner.
Bill was never about the ideas, really. Many times, he’d say something like “I don’t know what the answer is, but…”. He knew he didn’t really understand technology, social media, or mobile devices. But he knew people, and he knew that smart, ambitious people needed to be empowered to do the best they can do. Bill pointed you in the right general direction and gave you a swift kick in the pants.
One of the eulogists also touched on this; Bill shied away from the spotlight. In a valley filled with larger than life personalities and where success is often measured in stories and buzz before it’s measured in actual results, Bill was mostly out of the media’s view until the deluge of tributes this past week. I’ve never seen him take credit in a board meeting. I’ve never seen him say anything like “I told you so” when we’d finally come around to his way of thinking on an issue.
Even when he was talking about other companies he advised, their successes were their own, never due to his advice or coaching. But I’ve been lucky to be in many board meetings with him; I guarantee that he’s responsible for at least some of the successes of the companies he advised.
I could go on. There’s so much more, but I’m gonna wrap it up with this.
Thank you, Bill. Thank you for your spirit, love, and faith. I’ll try not to fuck it up.