Sergey Brin and Larry Page (Google’s founders) were gearing up to IPO. They accepted $25 million from venture capitalists.
The VC’s wanted Sergey and Larry to hire an adult.
So they started “interviewing.”
They took their prospects to Burning Man. A festival where people go to the desert to dance naked, hallucinate, and live in a barter economy.
This was their test.
And a lot of potential CEOs failed. I’d probably get dehydrated and vomit on my stomach.
But Eric Schmidt passed.
He came on the podcast. I asked, “Why would someone fail? What’d they do wrong?”
“When they didn’t have compatible views,” he said.
“Wait. You can’t leave me with just that.”
The audience laughed. I needed answers! This was the former CEO of Google. And then he became CEO of Alphabet Inc. (Google’s parent company).
“Um, it’s better not to name names.”
I won’t giving up.
“What’s an example?”
“Let’s just say tech culture is different. And you need people who can operate the way Sergey and Larry operate, which is largely technical.”
I don’t know what that means.
But Eric passed the Burning Man test. Then he got a call from John Doerr. John is the guy who initially recruited Eric to Google. Then he drops a bomb:
“You need a coach.”
He thought, “I have to prove myself!”
Larry and Sergey didn’t just want Eric to do well. They wanted all of Google to do well.
Eric was about to find this out. Here’s how the conversation went:
John: “Do tennis players have coaches?”
Eric: “Yeah, of course, but the coaches are not as good as the tennis players.”
John: “That’s the point. A coach does something different.”
Then it clicked.
Eric went from arrogance: “I don’t need a coach. Just look at all the things I’ve done. Look at how good I am. I just got hired.”
He said, “A lot of people are confused about this. Because everybody wants a mentor. You want somebody to complain to and support you. We need this. That’s not what a coach is. A coach is somebody who’s helping the team win.”
He quoted John Wooden, the famous UCLA basketball coach:
“It’s what you learn when you think you know it all that matters.”
Then he met Bill Campbell, “Trillion Dollar Coach.”
If you add up the value Bill’s contributed, it equals trillions of dollars. He’s coached Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Larry Page, Sergey Brin.
The list goes on.
So then the question becomes HOW do I get access to a Bill Campbell?
He passed away in 2016. And Eric says there’s no one like him out there.
So Eric and his colleagues Alan Eagle and Jonathan Rosenberg wrote the book, “Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell.”
“He never would have approved of this book,” Eric said.
But it’s needed.
Because it gives people outside of the Googles and Apples of the world to access a world-class coach.
HERE ARE 6 LESSONS I LEARNED FROM THE TRILLION DOLLAR COACH VIA ERIC SCHMIDT:
1. STEP OFF THE STAGE.
Bill Campbell had a lot of experience:
VP of marketing for Apple
Chairman of Columbia University
Chairman and CEO of Intuit
He could’ve retired. And spent the rest of his life celebrating.
He didn’t do that.
Instead, he created new meaning. And became “The Trillion Dollar Coach.”
“There’s an age when it’s time for you to get off the stage,” Eric said. “And in Bill’s case, he decided to get off the stage and help others for no compensation. Life had been so good to him. He wanted to give back to the industry and to the people he cared about.”
2. GIVE BACK
When John Johnson was leaving his CEO position at JCPenny, Bill told him, “If you’ve been blessed, be a blessing.”
3. DON’T COACH THE PERSON. COACH FOR THE TEAM
Eric didn’t want a coach, at first. Because he was thinking about himself.
“Look at all the things I’ve done, look how good I am,” he said. “I more or less said it like that in a pretty arrogant… maybe suber arrogant way.”
But Bill taught people to step outside themselves. “His entire goal was to keep the team together,” Eric said. “Just like a football coach.”
4. NEVER YELL
Bill never yelled. He didn’t berate. Or embarrass you.
Too many people suffer with this kind of boss.
I asked Eric, “Did you ever find yourself during your 18 years at Google yelling at someone and thinking in your head, ‘Bill is not going to like this but I feel like I have to do it?’”
“I made that mistake and many many others,” Eric said.
But he learned from watching Bill.
“You’re much better off asking questions rather than telling people what to do,” Eric said. “Because if you ask somebody a question, they’re engaged in your thought process. They’re going to try to figure out why you asked the question and they’ll modify their behavior. When you’re yelling at an employee to do something, you are losing.”
5. IT’S OK TO LOVE AT WORK
Bill Campbell isn’t alive anymore.
So the stories in “Trillion Dollar Coach” come from a collection of interviews.
And each interview had one recurring theme:
Jonathan Rosenberg was in the audience. He co-authored the book and did the interview with Eric and Alan.
He said, “Probably the word we heard most often with all the people that we interviewed was love. They loved Bill. They loved him. And they learned that it’s okay to bring love into the workplace. And of course, this is an entirely appropriate type of love, but it’s a word you never here in Silicon Valley or in the workplace. Bill deeply cared about people. And I think he taught all of us that to be a better manager and to be a better leader, you really need to love people.”
Eric gave some examples:
Bill would never start a conversation with someone at work without asking about something more meaningful.
“How are your kids?” Something outside of work.
This how people knew he cared.
6. ALLOW YOURSELF TO BE COACHABLE
Eric asked Jonathan, “How’d you first meet Bill?”
My engineer got him a mic. And he said:
Bill walks up to Jonathan one day. And gets right to the point. “I hear your smart. Don’t care. I’ve got one question.”
Jonathan had no idea what was going on.
He was in a conference room. Waiting for Eric.
And here’s this old guy. Grilling him.
The questions comes:
“Are you coachable.”
Jonathan thinks he’s smart.
So he says, “Depend on the quality of the coach.”
Bill leaves the room, “Smart alecs are not coachable.”
Then Jonathan realizes, “That’s the coach everyone talks about! That’s the guy who coached Steve Jobs!”
He runs out of the room to try to salvage the relationship. And his chance at getting coached.
Bill told him, “Turn around. Get back in there. Butt in chair.”
It’s weird because Jonathan was in his 40s.
He said, “I was like Eric. I didn’t want a coach. I didn’t need a coach.”
Bill saw this attitude a thousand times.
And each time, he held on to the same piece of truth:
“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”
Links & Resources
- “Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell” by Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg & Alan Eagle
- Follow Eric Schmidt on Twitter
- Follow Alan Eagle on Twitter
- Follow Jonathan Rosenberg on Twitter