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Bill Campbell, 75; football coach became mentor at Apple, Google

Mr. Campbell helped Steve Jobs at a time when Apple veered toward bankruptcy.
Mr. Campbell helped Steve Jobs at a time when Apple veered toward bankruptcy.Danny Ortega/Intuit Inc. via AP

SAN FRANCISCO — Bill Campbell, a former Ivy League football coach who became a management guru for Apple cofounder Steve Jobs and other Silicon Valley luminaries, died Monday after a battle with cancer. He was 75.

His death was confirmed by Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, a venture capital firm that often called upon Mr. Campbell to help mold entrepreneurs as they tried to manage the rapid growth often triggered by their innovations.

Although he wasn’t widely known outside Silicon Valley, Mr. Campbell played a pivotal role in shaping the direction of both Apple and Google, two of the world’s most powerful companies.


After working in marketing and sales at Apple during the 1980s, Campbell joined the company’s board in 1997, shortly after Jobs returned as the company’s CEO.

At the time, Apple was flirting with bankruptcy. Mr. Campbell frequently served as Jobs’s sounding board during one of the most resounding corporate turnarounds in US history as Apple first redesigned its Mac computer line and then rolled out the iPod, iPhone, and iPad to emerge as the world most valuable company. Mr. Campbell ended his 17-year stint on Apple’s board in 2014.

Mr. Campbell ‘‘believed in Apple when few people did and his contributions to our company, through good times and bad, cannot be overstated,’’ Apple said in a statement on Monday.

While working with Apple, Mr. Campbell played a behind-the-scenes role in Google’s success, too. Prompted by Kleiner Perkins, Mr. Campbell worked with former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and company cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin to help them work out their early differences and eventually forge one of the most successful partnerships in corporate America.

Alphabet, Google’s corporate parent, is now the world’s second most valuable company, ranking only behind Apple.

In a Facebook post, Schmidt credited Mr. Campbell for helping to build Google’s culture and hailed his contributions to the company as ‘‘incalculable.’’


‘‘We started with him as an external coach but he quickly became the internal management expert,’’ Schmidt wrote.

Mr. Campbell stopped consulting with Google in 2010, citing the conflicts of interest that faced him as an Apple board member. Google makes the Android operating system that powers most of the products competing against Apple’s trendsetting iPhone and iPad.

Mr. Campbell’s background gave little inkling he would become one of Silicon Valley’s most influential figures.

Before joining Apple, Mr. Campbell spent six seasons as the head coach of Columbia University’s football team. He compiled a 12-41-1 record at Columbia, a .231 winning percentage that was more than double that of his three successors.

As a student at Columbia, Mr. Campbell was the captain and an offensive guard on the football team that went 6-3 in 1961, including a 6-1 record in the Ivy League that earned the university a share of the conference title with Harvard. It’s still the only time that Columbia’s football team won the Ivy League.

Even after he left football, he remained known as ‘‘Coach’’ in Silicon Valley. He also owned an interest in a sports bar in Palo Alto, Calif., where he regularly met with friends at a table with a brass plaque inscribed ‘‘Coach’s Corner.’’

Before becoming a mentor to other companies, Mr. Campbell was CEO of software maker Intuit Inc. from 1994 to 1998. He later served as that company’s chairman until stepping down earlier this year.