Trillion Dollar Coach (2019) is the story of Bill Campbell. It is an endeavor by Google’s Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg, and Alan Eagle, to chart the course of Bill Campbell’s incredible journey as a coach, an excellent businessman, and mentor whose leadership skills; advice and guidance shaped many of Silicon Valley’s stars.

The Story Of An Unorthodox Business Guru

Before we begin with Bill’s exceptional ideas on leadership, management, and team building, let us begin with the simple story of the Silicon Valley Legend. Bill Campbell was born in Homestead, Pennsylvania in 1940 to a physical education teacher; Bill had the fire to make a name for him right from the beginning. He was intelligent and quick-witted and a die-hard football fan.

He joined the Lions, the Columbia University football team when he moved to New York to study economics. He was never built to be a football player though. He is 165 pounds and a mere 5ft10”, which made him the smallest member of the team. However, he quickly earned a nickname ‘Ballsy’, due to his will and fearlessness. In 1961, his captaincy earned the Lions the Ivy League Championship.

Over the next decade, after he moved to Boston College as a football coach, he became an established name in the football-coaching scene and started getting offers from some well-known names, including Joe Paterno from Penn State, one of the top college football coach. However, he gave up the opportunity because, at the same time, he was offered a job by his alma mater, and his loyalty took precedence over everything else.

From The Field To The Valley

He started a job at J. Walter Thompson and his fervor and enthusiasm were on display in the advertising industry as well. His clients loved him and one of them – Kodak managed to pull him out from the agency and place him as the head of consumer products in Europe.

His foray into Silicon Valley began when his long time friend John Sculley, moved from Pepsi to become the CEO of a new start-up called Apple. Bill Campbell accepted the offer because he knew that in the corporate world, his unorthodox background wouldn’t let him climb the corporate ladder any further.

His decision was a great one because, within nine months, he was made VP of Sales. Furthermore, it was in this role, that he made the smartest decision in the history of the company when he was to oversee the launch of Apple’s flagship product – the Macintosh. 

He gave the go-ahead for an ad for the Super Bowl in 1984 that took on the dystopian novel by George Orwell – 1984, even though the Apple board did not approve it. His decision to approve the controversial ad paid off, making it a historical moment in the world of advertising by introducing the world to the concept of Super Bowl advertising.

The Winds Of Change

Things started taking a different direction in 1990 when Bill Campbell was chosen to head Claris, the spin-off software venture. However, when Apple decided not to make Claris public, Bill knew that it was time to move on. 

He still managed a decade more in the industry before he moved on completely to coaching, mentoring, and business consulting. He lived by his own management rules. His years as a business coach are fondly remembered by some of the stalwarts of Silicon Valley. His coaching was significant in the success of Google and other companies. Here is how he did it!

1. Returning To The Core

Campbell joined Google in 2001 when the company was in the midst of an experiment, where Co-founder Larry Page had decided to do away with the concept of managers from the organization. Bill knew that the ‘disorg’, though successful, wasn’t a sustainable one. After much deliberation and arguments, he suggested that the opinions of those at the receiving end – the engineers – be taken into consideration. The response from the engineers was unanimous. They wanted managers!

According to the engineers, while the freedom was great, they needed managers to resolve stalemates. Moreover, they needed someone with the authority to make tough calls. A 2005 American Journal Of Sociology states that though flat hierarchies work well to imbibe and foster creativity, they do not always result in the successful implementation of those very creative ideas.

Bill Campbell’s answer to how to manage a balance between the two was simple. He suggested looking back at the first basic principles that define the mission and the values of the company. 

Trillion Dollar Coach - Bill Campbell
Trillion Dollar Coach by Bill Campbell

2. Showing Emotions Help Build Relationships

Bill Campbell understood that showing care and concern for the people you work with are signs of an effective leader, irrespective of the common notion that showing emotions at the workplace is a sign of weakness or incompetency.

Sigal Barsade and Olivia O’Neill, in their 2014 study found that organizations that practice emotional openness have lower rates of absenteeism, higher employee satisfaction, and better team performance. Such openness breaks down barriers between personal and professional, creating a more accepting environment.

Bill Campbell was warm and informal with his colleagues and was ever ready to help people in trouble. For example, he visited Steve Jobs every day in the hospital while he was riddled with cancer. In another example, Bill would make board members get out of their chair and clap for a presentation they liked, akin to how a parent appreciates a child, according to Phil Schiller.

Bruce Chizen from Claris adds that Bill’s easygoing cafeteria or elevator conversations were a way to start forging lasting personal relationships with colleagues. While it wasn’t as easy for Bruce, he realized that it wasn’t a difficult habit to imbibe either.

3. The Positives Of Loyalty

Perhaps one of Bill Campbell’s most endearing qualities was his loyalty. Right from the beginning – his loyalty towards his alma mater when he joined as a coach or the fact that Bill was the only prominent leader at Apple who argued against the board’s decision to oust Steve Jobs in 1985 are examples that show how deep that quality ran within his personality.

It was this very quality that got Jobs to hand him the position of Director at Apple from 1997 to 2014. Moreover, it strengthened their relationship. His involvement and loyalty to the company helped Apple bounce back from near bankruptcy on the way to becoming the Apple that we know today.

Similarly, Bill’s words of wisdom and loyalty to friends during the famous Sunday afternoon walks at Palo Alto helped Eric Schmidt’s Google – then a start-up – reach the heights it has reached today.

4. Bias Can Make Talented People Get Ignored

Bill was at the front when it came to ensuring that the best talent always got an opportunity. Deb Biondollilo, the head of HR at Apple then, narrates an incident where Bill was instrumental in ensuring that women got equal opportunities to showcase their mettle.

Bill had noticed that Deb would always take the backseat at the board meetings. One day he encouraged her to get to the front. When she finally plucked the courage to come up front, an executive Al Eisenstat was skeptical until he got the nod from Bill to accommodate her. That was just the beginning of helping women make it to the forefront in a male-dominated workspace.

His views that hiring women translates to more productivity are supported by the 2010 study published in the journal Science. It found that teams having a higher collective IQ and emotional intelligence have more women.

5. Trust Makes Boardrooms Tick

What is trust?

A 1998 Academy of Management Review journal states that trust is all about a willingness to take a chance because you have positive expectations for someone else’s behavior.’

The fact that Al Eisenstat accepted Deb in the forefront of the board meeting, and Deb’s courage to come up front, are classic examples of the fact that both, Al and Deb, trusted Bill’s judgment.

Bill earned people’s trust by simply listening to what they had to say, a method Al Eustace, Google’s computer scientist, calls free form listening. Additionally, he always asked questions. His way of respectfully asking questions made speakers feel a sense of belonging, and autonomy and feel competent. This is what made him a valuable and trustworthy conversation partner.

Bill also understood that trust has the power to turn arguments into positive experiences rather than personal attacks. Trust brings objectivity to a conversation, enabling the people in an argument to give a fair hearing to what is being said.

6. Not Dwelling On Negative Emotional Responses

Eddy Cue, an Apple executive remembers that Bill had a great philosophy – to get emotional responses to setbacks out of the way as fast as possible and to get moving ahead in meetings. He never wasted his time in meetings lamenting about failures. 

He employed a technique called problem-focused coping that involved utilizing one’s energy for constructive problem-solving. Essentially, Bill would keep the venting short and move on to finding a viable solution for the problem at hand.

A Different Kind of Memoir

Bill Campbell’s shooting star-like journey in Silicon Valley shows many leaders that the background of a person isn’t a yardstick to success. His insights into management, leadership, and his coaching strategies have helped make some of the world’s resounding successes what they are today.

The authors’ admiration of Campbell and this book is a way to show gratitude – a moral, philosophical, and financial gratitude – is clearly visible in the many tales in the book.