Bill Campbell, who has served on Apple’s Board of Directors for 17 years, took some time to sit down with Fortune and reflect on his years on the iPhone maker’s board, and his long association with Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.
Bill Campbell recalls Steve Jobs’ invitation to join Apple’s board of directors as the kind of request that “takes your breath away.”
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.’ ”
Campbell is planning to end his formal association with Apple. The company announced on Thursday that Campbell will resign from the board, and will be replaced by Sue Wagner, co-founder of asset management firm BlackRock.
Campbell, who turns 74 in August, was approached by Jobs concerning the seat on Apple’s bard while he was CEO of Intuit, where he remains Chairman of the Board. At that time, Campbell was well positioned to be a sounding board for Jobs, who had become a close friend. “I watched him emerge as a CEO in real time,” Campbell says. “I had a continuum with him. I watched him when he was general manager of the Mac division and when he went off and started NeXT. I watched Steve go from being a creative entrepreneur to a guy who had to run a business.”
Campbell recalled his years of serving on Apple’s board, while at the same time, advising Google and Eric Schmidt. “Steve would say, ‘If you’re helping them you’re hurting me.’ He would yell at me,” recalled Campbell.“ 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.
Campbell’s history with Apple goes back to 1983, when then CEO John Sculley hired him as head of marketing. Campbell eventually lead a software spinoff from Apple called Claris. He had intended to take the company public, then Apple exercised their right to buy it back.
Although initially brought on board by Sculley, Apple observers always saw him as “Steve’s guy.” That could have made for an awkward situation with Tim Cook.
However, in statements on Thursday, both men praised each other. “Bill’s contributions to Apple are immeasurable, and we owe him a huge debt of gratitude,” Cook said in a statement. “On behalf of the board and the entire company, I want to thank him for being a leader, a mentor and a friend.”
Campbell praised Cook, saying, “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.”
Campbell’s interview with Fortune is an interesting read, and can be found at the Fortune website.