Chahil: All marketing is social.
Photo: Mathew Scott
By Kevin Kelleher
August 29, 2013

Few executives have had greater influence shaping marketing in Silicon Valley than Satjiv Chahil. While at Apple in the early 1990s, Chahil and his team worked with musician Peter Gabriel to develop Xplora1, a groundbreaking interactive CD initially released only for Macs. He also had a knack for enticing celebrities to be gadget brand ambassadors, hiring model Claudia Schiffer in 2000 to promote Palm devices; a few years later he teamed up fashion designer Vivienne Tam with Hewlett-Packard. He was frequently photographed with boldfaced names at parties and confabs. Then he abruptly retired from HP in 2010 and disappeared from the tech scene.

Chahil was taking some time off to oversee a foundation his family established in Punjab, India, to bring technology to underserved schools. But he returned to Valley life in 2012 as a consultant, working with everyone from giant cable companies to scrappy startups, like those in nestGSV, a Redwood City-based incubator and accelerator.

While much has changed in technology in the two years Chahil was away (HP is no longer the No. 1 PC maker in the world, for starters), Chahil’s skills as a connector have never been in greater demand. “My whole career has been about facilitating innovations and helping them to the market,” he says.

He recently aided in brokering an alliance between Sony and the San Francisco 49ers on the new football stadium in Santa Clara. (Sony’s high-definition 4K cameras, placed around the stadium, will offer fans with smartphones or tablets access to multiple vantage points and close-ups.) “Satjiv is renowned in Silicon Valley for his pioneering endeavors to enrich consumer entertainment experiences,” says 49ers owner Jed York. Adds Sony Electronics president Phil Molyneux: “We were delighted to have him facilitate discussions with the 49ers.”

Chahil, 62, has long excelled at bringing together ideas and people. He says he was greatly influenced by an uncle who was a writer, political commentator, and conservationist. “I watched him connect artists with businessmen, social workers with foreign ambassadors,” he says. “I wondered if it were possible to be that way as a global businessperson.”

So as companies try to make their marketing more “social” (see “Social Media All-Stars“), they are in some ways catching up to what Chahil discovered decades ago: “The most powerful marketing has always been word of mouth.”

The distribution platforms may have changed from interactive CDs to Facebook pages and tweets, but the information and message still need to resonate with consumers. And that makes Chahil as relevant as ever.

This story is from the September 16, 2013 issue of Fortune.

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