A guru to Apple and Google, Bill Campbell is the most confidential advisor in Silicon Valley. How a former college football coach is shaping the character of an industry The Valley guru keeps a low profile but his rules for success are a growing legend.
Think big with talent : Campbell believes startups often hire “early stage” people without thinking about whether they will succeed as the company grows. They should instead hire major players who know how to scale up. Once they’re in, Campbell uses a review system that measures four areas: on-the-job performance – the typical quantitative goals; peer group relationships; management/leadership, or how well you develop the people around you; and innovation/best practices.
Be honest – and accountable : “I remember him describing me as a human missile,” says Danny Shader, CEO of Jasper Wireless, who at the time was a disgruntled employee at Go Corp. Campbell, the CEO, sat him down, saying, “Here are a bunch of things you need to do to improve yourself and things that I need to do.” By talking straight with employees – and committing to helping them succeed – Campbell helps create a team dynamic.
Skip the chief operating officer : Most Campbell-led or -mentored companies (Google and Intuit, for example) have no COO. Campbell thinks the COO often takes over management details that the CEO should be deeply involved in. And COOs often end up isolated, with star managers insisting on reporting to the CEO.
Invest in the future : Campbell believes technology companies should never slack on innovation. “He is a huge advocate of having to be on the leading edge,” says Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Netscape, Opsware, and Ning. “He was always on us [at Opsware] with the budget about having to invest more in R&D.”
Empower the engineer : Campbell thinks engineers are the innovation core of any tech company. Giving engineers the freedom to create, free of marketing dictates, is critical. On Campbell’s suggestion, Intuit CEO Brad Smith gave his engineers four hours a week of unstructured time. The result: six new products in the past year.