Retiring Bill Campbell reflects on Steve Jobs and other Apple memories

Bill Campbell

This afternoon, Apple announced that Susan Wagner, a founding parter of asset-managment firm BlackRock, had been elected to its board of directors. She takes the place of Bill Campbell, who is retiring after 17 years on the board.

In the press release, Campbell said that Apple today was is in “the best shape” that he’s ever seen it. And in an interview with Fortune, he shared some addition thoughts on the company and memories of his time there with Steve Jobs…

Bill Campbell joined Apple in 1983, hired by John Sculley as VP of Marketing. He went on to lead the company’s Claris software division, and then left to pursue other endeavors at Intuit, where he served as CEO and is currently chairman.

Campbell recalls when Steve Jobs asked him to join Apple’s board:

It was 1997, shortly after Jobs had returned to Apple. Jobs and Campbell were neighbors in Palo Alto, and Jobs would frequently take walks on weekends and knock on Campbell’s door. Sometimes Jobs simply would wander into Campbell’s backyard and sit down by the pool. “He came by one day, and we sat on a bench by the pool,” Campbell says, “and he said, ‘I’d like you to join the Apple board.’ The only time I’ve had a rush like that was when I was asked to be a trustee of Columbia University. I said, without hesitation, ‘For sure.’

He also reflects on the stress his position at Google put on his relationship with Jobs:

Campbell has walked a sometimes not-so-fine line during his business coaching career managing potential conflicts of interest. The highest-profile danger zone was his dual role on the Apple board and advising Schmidt and Google. “Steve would say, ‘If you’re helping them you’re hurting me.’ He would yell at me,” recalls Campbell, whose normal banter typically needs to be sanitized for most publications. “ I’d say, ‘I can’t do HTML, come on. I’m just coaching them on how to run their company better.’” He continued in both roles for years. 

And finally, he shares some thoughts on Tim Cook’s leadership:

Apple is an institution now,” he said. “Tim’s done an amazing job of building bench strength within the organization. There’s a whole set of new and smart people who are taking over. You’re watching that company grow up.”

One of Campbell’s unique attributes during the Jobs years was his insight into Jobs’s thinking and character, due to their friendship. As he leaves Apple’s board—and given his vast network of senior leaders in the tech industry—Campbell now offers a unique insight into what makes Cook tick. “Tim is a calm, thoughtful guy,” he said. “He studies things and thinks about them, makes a decision, and moves on.” 

You can read the full interview over at Fortune, and it’s certainly worth it. If you missed today’s earlier announcement, you can find the press release here.