Bill Campbell, a legendary mentor and executive coach to many of Silicon Valley’s luminaries, died in April. On stage at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen, a few of his mentees paid tribute to his impact on their lives and the tech industry.
John Doerr, a partner at Kleiner Perkins, Emil Michael, SVP of business at Uber, Shellye Archambeau, CEO of MetricStream, and Brad Smith, Chairman and CEO of Intuit, shared their memories and lessons from a mentor they remember to be tough, caring and frequently profane.
Here are a few:
Don’t assume your employees automatically respect you because you’re the boss
Campbell did not believe in positional authority, according to Smith. “Your title makes you a manager. Your people will decide if you’re a leader, and it's up to you to live up to that,” he said. Campbell told managers a strong company culture was a better way to motivate employees. They should “create the environment where they can do the best work of their lives.”
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Lean into hard problems
Campbell taught Michael to “be brave” about things like layoffs during difficult times after the dotcom boom at TellMe Networks. You need to lean into hard problems because they won’t go away, says Michael.
Great companies are bought, not sold
“When you get in hard times, its terrible thinking to decide to sell,” Michael says he learned from Campbell. “Get back to building a great company.” It worked for TellMe, which turned itself around and went on to sell to Microsoft at a profit to investors.
Do what’s right, even if it’s not in fashion
“Bill was focused on diversity, especially gender diversity, before it was cool and even in the news,” Archambeau said. Campbell sparked the idea to launch a women’s entrepreneurship conference series and funded the first one himself. “One of my favorite sayings from Bill was, ‘Yes, we absolutely need to change the overall profile [of executives at the company] and we will hire the best person for the job. The best person can be a woman, it may just take a little longer.’”
“That’s a key legacy of his,” Smith added.
Lead people to opportunity
Campbell did not place much value on degrees or even IQs—he cared about courage and getting things done. “Bill loved people that had dirt under their fingernails, get-shit-done kind of people,” says Smith. “That validated a lot of people. He gave people a shot.”
It’s not about you, it’s about the team
Campbell didn’t want attention for his work. Though he worked with a lot of celebrity CEOs, he didn’t like ego. "He believed in team. He lived the kind of values he taught," Doerr said.
"I don’t think you can be an effective coach and be on stage," he added. "You gotta call the plays from the side.”
Archambeau agreed. “He didn’t want to take anyone’s shine away,” she said.