“Winter, spring, summer or fall
All you’ve got to do is call
And I’ll be there, ye, ye, ye
You’ve got a friend”
Last night my friend Bill Campbell passed away. He meant everything to me and I am having trouble even beginning to say something.
Today people will recount his many massive accomplishments as well as his unparalleled influence on the development of the greatest leaders in the technology industry such as Jeff Bezos, Larry Page, and Steve Jobs. They will speak about the unlimited energy he applied in helping others — from the poor kids in hometown of Homestead, Pennsylvania to the students at Columbia University. And all of it will be so well deserved. But I don’t feel like talking about any of that.
Selfishly, all I can think about is how much he helped me and what a true friend I had in Bill. Whenever I struggled with life, Bill was the person that I called. I didn’t call him, because he would have the answer to some impossible question. I called him, because he would understand what I was feeling 100%. He would understand me. I have never known anyone else who could do that like Bill. Be the person who would understand me all the time. I must have called him a 100 different times, because I knew he would feel what I was feeling.
One time when I was running Loudcloud, we needed to either raise money or go bankrupt. The private capital markets had completely shut down and the only way out was to go public. Unfortunately, we did not have a board of directors that met the requirements of being a public company and it was difficult to recruit anyone to the board at that time due to our dire circumstances. I certainly couldn’t recruit anybody that I knew, respected, and trusted. The last thing that I need was a board member that I’d just met. I had already ruled Bill out, because he had told me when we first started working together that he wasn’t going to go on any boards. I knew that he meant it, because he didn’t even go on Google’s board. Board work was just not something that he wanted to do at that point in his life. Nonetheless, I knew that he would understand the situation and I needed someone to understand. So, I explained everything to Bill about the situation that we were in and how I was feeling about it. He said: “I don’t go on any boards, but I can hear that you need me. I’ll go on your board.” And he did and we wouldn’t have made it as a company without him.
Another time, my oldest child Jules concluded he was transgender and was going to change his gender by taking testosterone and having surgery. It’s impossible to fully describe how one feels as a parent in a situation like that, but mostly all I felt was worry — worry that he wouldn’t be accepted, worry that his health would fail, worry that the surgery would not go well, worry that he would be killed by some intolerant group. I was so filled with worry that I could barely function. When I told people about it, they would have various reactions, but the one thing that was clear was that nobody really understood the depth of the issues or the worry that I had. So, I decided to tell Bill. When I told him, I could see the tears well up in his eyes and he said: “that’s going to be really hard.” Then he immediately wanted to see Jules. And Bill made sure that he embraced Jules and let him know that he was not alone and would always have a friend in Bill. Bill understood.
The worst thing about today is that I can’t call Bill. I miss him so much.