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Is Apple losing another board member?

Bill Campbell. Photo: Intuit

According to an SEC Form 4 filed Friday, Bill Campbell, a key Apple (AAPL) board member and a close friend and adviser to Steve Jobs, executed a “non-sale transfer” of 60,000 shares of Apple stock worth more than $7.7 million in late August — including directors options he’d been holding for eight years.

It’s not clear where Campbell transferred those shares or for what purpose. In 2007 Campbell sold 160,000 shares with an average strike price of $5.75, clearing nearly $17 million in the sale. But those options were approaching their expiration date. Some of the options he transferred on Aug. 27 weren’t going to expire until 2018.

It’s also not clear how many — if any — Apple shares Campbell retained. But the size and timing of the transfer could be significant. One possibility — and this is purely speculative — is that he is reconsidering his position on Apple’s board.

Campbell, who is chairman of Intuit (INTU), is also a close adviser to Google (GOOG) CEO Eric Schmidt, who resigned his position on Apple’s board on Aug. 3 because of growing conflicts of interest. (See here.) Although not a member of Google’s board of directors, Campbell attends its board meetings — the only outsider who does so.

Campbell keeps a low profile; unless you work in high tech, you’ve probably never heard of him. But behind the scenes, he is one of the most influential figures in Silicon Valley. Most of what we know about him comes from the only profile ever published in a major magazine — Jennifer Reingold’s 2008 story in Fortune.

That piece described Campbell as mentor and consigliere to a long list of Valley luminaries — from Intuit’s Scott Cook to Kleiner Perkins’s John Doerr — who “shap[ed] the character of an industry.”

It contains this paragraph about his relationship with Steve Jobs:

For Schmidt and others, having a foulmouthed angel on their shoulder – one who isn’t on the payroll, with no overt political agenda – is a dream come true. “He loves people, and he loves growing people,” says Jobs. “He went from being one of the prize stalks of corn on the farm to being the farmer.” At Apple, Campbell is not just a board member; he’s also Jobs’ friend, and the two take regular Sunday walks around the streets near their homes in Palo Alto, where Jobs says they discuss “the things that have got me concerned and things I haven’t yet figured out.” Of particular interest to Jobs is Campbell’s marketing background, as well as his magical impact on the troops. “He has learned to get A and B work out of people,” says Jobs. “And Apple doesn’t make four billion semiconductors. Apple is only its ideas – which is only its people.” One executive who knows both men well says that Jobs trusts Campbell completely. “Bill is nonthreatening,” he says.

Campbell, who was Columbia University’s football coach from 1974 to 1979, first joined Apple in 1983 as vice president of marketing under John Sculley and later ran its Claris software division. When Sculley refused to let him spin Claris off, Campbell and much of the Claris management team left. He returned to Apple in 1997 when Jobs came back.

Apple has not commented. Campbell could not be reached.

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