(April 11, 2011) Bill Campbell, the 2011 recipient of Community Impact’s “Making a
Difference Award,” does not fit the mold. Any mold. Chairman of Intuit Inc., Chairman
of Columbia’s Board of Trustees, key board member of Apple and Google, an early
advocate of touch-screen/pen computing, twelve years a football coach, famous for
avoiding fame, Bill Campbell gets credit from high-profile leaders – including the
founders of Apple and Google – for helping them achieve missions that have shaped the
He does not like to use the word “leader” to describe himself. “I don’t use the term.
I believe that coaching people, helping them with decisions, guiding them to positive
outcomes is what a manager is required to do. If you demonstrate that you care deeply
about the people on your team and that you are willing to coach them to be their best,
then leadership will accrue to you. It is they that confer ‘leader’ on you,” says Campbell.
Leadership often shows up, he says, where it is least in evidence – when necessity gives it
life. People can be smart and charismatic, but unable to focus their mission or get it done
until they learn how to spread the knowledge around. Then, watch it go viral.
Campbell says, “The conditions we live in change for the better because of one thing: the
distribution of knowledge. That happens when someone who can lead learns something
useful and then delivers that education to others. It happens in business, in sports, in
public affairs and in community service. It is the same process. It is what Community
Impact does, just as it is what Columbia University does.”
Renown in Silicon Valley for recruiting women executives – he led an effort to find
women for the sales and marketing teams at Apple in its first years – Campbell says
he still often hears an executive tell him, “I simply want the best person, whether man
or woman,” to which Campbell replies, “The best person can be a woman, it may just
take a little longer.” Campbell has lavished support on the Western Pennsylvania school
district where he grew up, where his lionized dad served as a legendary football coach,
high school principal and then school superintendent. “Most of the kids in that school
district live in a bleak world. You have to give these kids a sense of hope, a sense they
can escape from the hard places and hitch a ride toward opportunity,” says Campbell.
A stalwart of Community Impact’s work, Campbell remembers how Columbia’s
relations have vacillated within its neighborhood. He served as captain of the Ivy League
champion Columbia football team in 1961 – before the great revolution in community
and social relations of the late 1960s – returning to Columbia as head football coach in
1974 – after that revolution had put its teeth into the fabric of the community. “Years ago,
Columbia’s relationship with our community was filled with mistrust. I don’t think that is
the case anymore, but one bad move, one stupid remark, can still undo five years of broad
and good work. We have got to get rid of that residue of mistrust, to become more open
and productive as we link together our common interests in Harlem and Manhattanville.
When we live up to our own goals, these interests can, should and do enhance each
other’s lives. That is in our mission. I believe that we are doing just that.”
Bill Campbell has reluctantly agreed to come out from behind the curtain, just a bit, so
that we can publicly say what we have long said privately: Thanks, Bill Campbell. For
his constancy in support of Community Impact and the values we share, for his model of
self-effacing leadership, for his energy and his wisdom and his belief in us, Community
Impact awards its 2011 Making a Difference Award to Bill Campbell.