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Silicon Valley’s Legendary ‘Coach’ Bill Campbell Has Died (recode.net)
253 points by ghshephard on Apr 18, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 51 comments

Very, very sad indeed. I had far too few chances to interact with Bill, but when I did, they were always incredibly memorable.

One of my favorite quotes came at the SV Angel CEO conference a few years ago. When asked about culture, Bill said: "Culture is not about the free food or the ping pong tables. Culture is about how you treat your people and how they treat each other."

Rings very true to me. My condolences to his family, Bill was a great man.

Says volumes about our level of discourse that this is considered a pearl of wisdom.

Unfortunately this was particularly the case around 2011 :(

Can you think of any examples of wisdom that don't seem blatantly obvious on hindsight? Would sincerely love to hear them

I've said the same thing to leaders at multiple startups (some well known) and they all gave me a look like I was a neophyte who didn't understand the motivating power of ping pong tables.

I am surprised that the Bill Campbell described in this article could be the same one who oversaw Intuit, a company which has engaged in some very shady business practices with regard to tax reform (https://www.propublica.org/article/how-the-maker-of-turbotax...). This is not to speak ill of the dead, only to note that people are complex and full of contradictions.

Bill Campbell was also the one that helped negotiate the wage theft that Apple and Google were sued over. https://pando.com/2014/01/23/the-techtopus-how-silicon-valle...

There's an interesting portrayal of Bill and his actions in Biz Stone's "Things a Little Bird Told Me", his memoir about Twitter and other things.

Can you add more to this?

At board meetings, Campbell would appear to listen to Ev’s presentations on the state of the company. After Ev’s sermons were done, the coach would clap loudly and hug his protegee, proclaiming again to everyone in the room that Ev was “doing a fucking great job” and asking them to clap… Then, after Ev left the room, proud that his mentor thought he was doing such a great job, Campbell would shout at the group: “You gotta get rid of this fucking guy. He doesn’t know what the fuck he’s doing.”


That's from the other Twitter history by Nick Bilton but both agree as to the nature of "coach" as betrayer.

Your timeframes are very off. He was CEO of Intuit from 1994 to 1998. The lobbying to disallow free e-filing happened in 2005 and onwards. You can't hold him accountable for things that happened 7+ years after he left. This is independent of taking either side of the morality of their lobbying, or lobbying in general.

And for the record, I am all for tax simplification. :-)

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Campbell_(business_exe...

The guy was chairman until 2016

Good point. He would have known.

I always wanted to ask the executives how they reconciled the "Integrity Without Compromise" corporate value with the lobbying against return-free filing. But I'm almost sure the answer I'd have gotten is the same one that most of the people working on TurboTax gave me...that taxpayers need an advocate to ensure that they're not overpaying the government. If the government prepared people's returns, even if people had the option to amend them, most wouldn't go through the hassle, so the government would have an incentive to not optimize returns so that people were paying the least they were legally allowed to.

It's possible that this was just the party line that they were all told to parrot, but if felt like they had more integrity than that, so I'm choosing to believe that they've all internalized that logic and truly believe it. For my part, when I worked at Intuit, I chose to rationalize it by telling myself that I worked on an unrelated product and that I was not involved in that "shadiness." Still, whenever we'd release rosy TurboTax numbers to investors and the stock would pop, I felt a little guilty profiting from that.

The notion that people need an incentive to save money is more or less a contradiction under capitalist dogma.

One is about people and organizations, and the other is about hedging for long term interests of the company's prospects.

The details of the second could be sinister or evil from a macro, national context, but if you narrow down your scope to just Intuit the organization and its people, its lobbying efforts can be seen as doing the right thing for its workforce and their well being.

If you narrow your scope enough then almost anything can be seen as doing the right thing.

How is it "very shady"? I totally buy that tax prep firms have an interest in keeping taxation complicated, but there's a not-crazy argument that the government shouldn't obscure how and how much its citizens are taxed.

For one thing, forcing individuals to determine their own tax puts some practical limit on how complex the tax code can be.

Given that individuals can and often do outsource the execution of the tax code to software such as TurboTax, what practical limit did you have in mind?

Also, it is one thing to say that the tax code should not be secret or obfuscated. It's another thing to say that tax preparation should require use of private companies. It doesn't, quite, but you can't e-file directly with the IRS...

What makes him so special is that he was the one "Adult in the Room" who was welcomed in. He understood that technology is a Long Game, not a Short Game, and encouraged great leadership and management. This is an enormous loss.

I would love to see comments by people who had personal interactions with him. Please. :-)

It's interesting you say that (Adult in the Room), since my interactions with him were kind of the opposite. I don't mean that he was childish, but that saying evokes a feeling of tempering one's impulses in a way that he didn't seem interested in doing.

I met him at one company mixer and he was regaling us with many stories from Intuit's past. Someone asked him if he'd like another beer (he'd had a few already) and his response was, "I can't drink from an empty bottle." I also saw him do tequila shots with the head of our business unit on stage at a fireside chat they had. I don't mean to paint him as a lush, because that didn't seem like the case, but more to point out how genuine he was. With him, there was no concession to propriety. He did and said whatever he felt like doing or saying.

I can see why the companies he lead and advised tended to have great culture because I think the first step is for the leaders to be as warm/friendly and genuine as possible and Bill had those qualities in spades.

Thank you for sharing. This explains why he was so welcomed. By "Adult in the Room" I mean being the person to instill perspective and a longer time horizon in executives.

This should constitute a black bar for today.

Campbell was responsible for shaping some of the greatest minds the tech industry has ever known. I mean, the amount of money that the people who learned from Campbell control can be measure in TRILLIONS. This man was the absolutely one of the most influential people I can even think of when it comes to tech.

I wish I could've met him!


C'mon now, let's not get ahead of ourselves...

Apple and Google alone have over a trillion in market cap.

How much of that valuation is due to his efforts, and how much is due to the decades of labour by over a hundred thousand talented engineers?

That's not what he suggested:

> the amount of money that the people who learned from Campbell control can be measure in TRILLIONS

Eric Schmidt is quoted as saying that the totality of Google's organizational structure owes itself to Bill Campbell.

That's a pretty substantial fraction of the company's valuation.

Valuation =/= "control" over that money.

(source : Founder)

A truly sad day. I had a chance to meet Bill 4 or 5 times as a student and as an entrepreneur, and you would have no idea that he was such an institution: completely approachable and willing to give advice and support even to a random kid from North Carolina.

Hey, I'm from North Carolina too, from Clayton!

That's really awesome to hear that you were able to meet him. I always hear stories about people like that, who leave that 'approachable' impression on people they meet, I'm glad that there are still others like Campbell left, and that it seems that so many have learned from him. Surely his great work will continue on in the lives he touched.

Boy, has HN grown. I would have never imagined seeing another Clayton native here!

Well, Clayton has grown quite a bit too. I'm in NYC now, but I visited some family there a few months ago, and the place has changed quite a bit. Lots of new developments and such.

Absolute Legend. Here's an hour long interview with the man. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EFWG51nGmGA

This is very sad. Just this week I have been reading "The hard thing about hard things" by Ben Horowitz and he makes countless mention of how great Bill Campbell was.

Url changed from http://www.businessinsider.sg/bill-campbell-has-died-2016-4, which points to this.

That free food and those ping pong tables are very representative of how a person treat their employees, though.

They typically mean that the person believes that food and games are appropriate compensation for continuous overtime. I wouldn't need food if I was (socially, it's rarely made explicit) allowed to leave at an appropriate time (5pm, assuming 9am arrival), because I'd have time to make my own dinner.

Similarly, ping-pong tables mean you do not value your employees' focus, and believe that "whack whack whack" noises are totally okay in a room of knowledge workers (well, then that it's a single room room means...).

So culture might not be the ping-pong tables and candy, but they're certainly representative.

We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11521554 and marked it off-topic.

I've been thinking about that recently. How would you engineer a workplace that is amenable to say...sustained work?

Currently I'm my image of the ideal workplace (assuming no resource constraints) hovers around: quick internet, sufficient computing power, multiple screens, +100sqft/employee, spacious desks, 1-3 person offices, windows (the glass version), lighting, etc. It's a wishlist, for sure.

Then there's also the question of an ideal restplace. I believe most people (including me) are incapable of doing challenging work for 8 hours a day, and anyone who thinks that we are is lying to himself. I think 2 hours are good, 4 brilliant, and 6 are almost impossible. That means from 9-5 there's at least 2 hours, if not 6 spent doing things that are somewhere between work and decidedly not-work. If I could use that time to think/nap/mediate/sit in a really nice massage chair in a quiet room, I'd be a lot better rested. Fully resting instead of pretending-to-work-resting should be more time efficient and more effective, which hopefully allows you to take on more challenging work after a shorter rest.

Thinking deeply about issues seems to be another component of knowledge work. How do you set out thinkspace? Trails, gardens, mazes, solitude and complex layouts seem to lend themselves to getting lost in a problem, but that's just a personal hunch and requires more study.

I think the fundamental difference between knowledge workers and industrial workers is that industrial work solves a given problem thousand times a day, and that knowledge work (ideally) solves any given problem once, and if it crops up twice, you automate and abstract till it solves itself. That requires a different approach, and therefore a different environment to facilitate.

I have plenty of time to make my own dinner, but I don't like cooking, and hate washing up.

Yes but people with kids and family would like that time for themselves. Although you mean good, when enough number of people in the office stay late for food and in the process work a little, it puts pressure on the family people. This results in them giving up their family life for the fear of being perceived as a slacker.

The world is not obliged to bend to your choice to have children, just as I don't expect employers to oblige my decision to occasionally go out drinking on a Thursday night.

If leaving at 5pm is important to you, work at an employer who ends work then. There are plenty out there. They also tend to require arriving by 9am (which I would hate), but I don't derail other HN threads to complain about that.

>The world is not obliged to bend to your choice to have children

But they are when someone stays at office because they don't want to cook (which is the reason the comment I replied to gave)? Nobody is asking for extra privileges for having kids, the problem is being penalized for having a life outside work.

> But they are when someone stays at office because they don't want to cook (which is the reason the comment I replied to gave)?

Offices certainly aren't obligated to provide food and in fact the majority don't.

Different companies offer different perks which appeal to different workers. If you don't like the perks of a particular company, it's not a "penalty"—just work elsewhere.

You don't seem to grasp what I'm saying. Giving or not giving food is not the penalty. If some people stay beyond work hours for food and work while they are there, but some people don't stay, it should not be held against them.

>Different companies offer different perks which appeal to different workers. If you don't like the perks of a particular company, it's not a "penalty"—just work elsewhere

First, this is a general trend, not an exception. Most new companies advertise free food as a perk. Second, just work elsewhere is not always possible for everybody. If you can't relate to other people's situation and problems, keep quiet. Don't say it is not a problem because you don't think it is.

will you say the same thing about working conditions in sweatshops? Should the kids assembling iPhones also 'find' another job?

> will you say the same thing about working conditions in sweatshops? Should the kids assembling iPhones also 'find' another job?

Comparing highly paid software engineers to kids working in sweatshops is ridiculous at best, insulting at worst.

Some companies have strict working hours of 9–5. There are plenty of job openings at such companies. Again, should I complain about the penalty I would inevitable receive from such companies for not showing up at 9am?

>Comparing highly paid software engineers to kids working in sweatshops is ridiculous at best, insulting at worst.

Yes because money is what determines the ethics and attitude that companies and managers have towards employees.

>Again, should I complain about the penalty I would inevitable receive from such companies for not showing up at 9am?

No because that is a written rule that conforms to labor laws that you have agreed to, before you joined. Not staying back after work because I have life outside of work is neither.

Nothing gets my brain going like a hard-fought game of ping pong.

snacks are free all day long ping pong table is in another room so no whack whack whack

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