Tech industry leader Jonathan Rosenberg ’83 tells the story of Silicon Valley’s Trillion Dollar Management Coach

Jonathan Rosenberg ’83 P ‘14 came with a story to tell. It was a tale of his deep affection for the late Bill Campbell, his longtime management coach and the subject of his latest book, Trillion Dollar Coach: Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley.

Campbell, who died in 2016, would have been pleased. He taught Rosenberg that the best way to reach people is through storytelling.

Rosenberg, an advisor to Alphabet management and former senior vice president of Google, opened his talk at the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum recalling the first time he met Campbell. Rosenberg, who was running Excite@Home’s product team at the time, sat in a conference room waiting to talk with Larry Page and Sergey Brin about joining Google’s leadership team. Campbell entered, and without introducing himself, leaned close to Rosenberg and asked, “Are you coachable?”

Rosenberg’s answer wasn’t what Campbell wanted to hear—“he said smart alecs weren’t coachable,” but he got the job.

For the next decade Rosenberg met with Campbell every two weeks, joining a small group of Silicon Valley legends—Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, and Marissa Mayer among them--benefitting from Campbell’s guidance.

Campbell had worked at J. Walter Thompson, Kodak, Apple, and Intuit, where he was CEO and chairman. But he started his career as coach of Columbia University’s football team, and the sport informed his ideas about leadership and teamwork.

“Bill believed it is your people that make you a leader, and that you need your people to elect you captain of the team,” said Rosenberg, who holds a bachelor’s in economics with honors from Claremont McKenna College and an MBA from the University of Chicago. “He broke you down like a football player.”

The lessons Campbell taught began with relationships, including the importance of bringing diverse voices into the room to prevent myopia, and “to work the team and not the problem,” said Rosenberg, who, with co-authors Eric Schmidt and Alan Eagle, compiled Campbell’s teachings in their bestselling business book.

“He brought love and caring into the workplace in a way that almost no one ever does,” Rosenberg said. “He built an envelope of trust faster than anyone in the world.”

Though he had a “formula for everything,” Campbell adjusted his teaching to the challenges facing each of his clients, Rosenberg said. He created “didactic moments” that would bring home a lesson.

Rosenberg ended his story with one of those moments. Campbell had taken him on a surprise trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, where the two men stood in silence watching a great white shark swim around its tank. On the ride home, Campbell stopped along the coast where the shark would eventually be released into the ocean. Every time Rosenberg would pass the spot in the future, Campbell said, he would be reminded of that day—and the value of relationships.

- Susan Price