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Bill Campbell is controversial.

A former Columbia University football coach, Campbell has been an executive adviser to some of the heaviest hitters of the IT industry, including Steve Jobs, Eric Schmidt and Larry Page.

The 72 year old executive has had a hand in such companies as Intuit, Go Corp., Claris Corp. and Apple, and while he’s a big advocate of creative talent he has been adamant that leaders need to have a blend of both creativity and fundamental operational skill. It’s certainly not that he doesn’t value creatives. While many East Coast executives who headed to Silicon Valley early on tended to discount the creativity at work there, Campbell valued creative types, particularly engineers.

Campbell has insisted that while the world is constantly seeking the next Steve Jobs, they’re often looking in the wrong direction. Instead of searching for the next creative genius, Bill Campbell suggests finding one that meshes creativity with an understanding of the operational side of business. According to Campbell, great leaders need to “understand the manufacturer, the supply chain, the retail element. It’s not just brilliance, but a lot of other stuff. Good people have both sides, but that’s unique.”

Hired as vice president of marketing for Apple in 1983 by then-CEO John Sculley, Bill Campbell was the longest sitting chairperson for the technology giant and was with the company when they first decided to open their own proprietary computer stores. In his time with Apple, Bill Campbell went from VP of marketing, added VP of sales to his responsibilities and then was promptly promoted to executive vice president that same year.

In an interview with USA Today, Bill Campbell described the changes that have occurred in Silicon Valley over the years. He explains that many of the executives that were hired early on were often IBM salesmen. “Unfortunately, these guys were all sales guys. I mean, that’s all they did. And those guys all failed miserably because they didn’t know the product, they didn’t understand the technology; all they could do was sell.” Said Campbell. “I like to think of myself as being one of the unusual ones that came from a different industry, came from the East Coast, and then got himself absorbed into what was going on in the world and learned how to become a manager of a technology company – technology people, technology creativity, all of that.”

As an advisor to tech executives, Campbell’s most common theme seems to be the middle ground. He speaks of creativity and operational expertise, marketing prowess and business savvy as if they’re not at complete odds with each other, but instead cogs in an ideal machine.

 

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