Some years ago, I had a long discussion with the late Bill Campbell about Steve Jobs, Apple, and how to manage effectively. While a few short excerpts from this interview appeared in one of my books, the entire interview has never been published.
Here it is, edited a bit for clarity:
Geoffrey James: Tell me about your relationship with Steve Jobs.
Bill Campbell: The one thing I learned from Steve is to hire a great person for every single job in your company. Every person has to be great. You can't just accept mediocrity because you have, it's a low paying position. You just can't. There's somebody else out there that can take that job and do something really wonderful with it. I hire good people and count on them to provide me with the knowledge and understanding of the position that I don't have.
GJ: What was your most memorable experience at Apple?
BC: I like people and love to hire them and liked getting young people into the company. When we were at Apple we hired 400 people in the summer to be the sales force for Apple Computer, which never had its own sales force. It was 50% women. Talk about cultural change in the sales market! Compensation was fantastic. We talked to them always about honesty and integrity, that they should sell for Apple not for dollars. Those were principles that we set just in that organization.
GJ: How would you characterize your management philosophy?
BC: I always say that my companies are borderline anarchy. I like people to fight back. I've got a temper and I'm angry a lot, not abusive. I'm like "God damn it, Geoffrey, how the hell come we're not doing this? You know, I asked you to do it!" I expect you to respond in kind: "Look, Bill, that was a shit idea. I tried to get it done that way and I put it out to the field sales force, and three customers rejected it." So them I'm: "Fine, fine, fine, fine, I hear you." That way I know you've gone through things. I expect you to say "[expletive] you, Bill, I've got a better way to do it."
GJ: What the most important thing you've learned about management over the years?
BC: Delegation was the biggest thing. I was the ultimate micro-manager at Apple. I was terrible. I had my [expletive] fingers in everything and basically insisted I was always the victim of a reorganization. I went there as a VP of marketing, I took over sales, I took over distribution services, then I took over... It was constant turmoil of different managers and all that, and what I did is I micro-managed everybody because I knew the way I wanted it. I didn't have strong people. I had absorbed some people from different groups and didn't have enough people that I could really count on.
GJ: How did you learned to delegate?
BC: When I went to Claris, I hired the people individually, everybody that I wanted, and I started right at the beginning. I still badgered them a little bit about getting it the way I wanted but after I got past the first and second year, I basically was a kind of a referee. I broke ties and kept the organization from conflict because there was, there's a lot of natural conflicts, engineering and marketing.
GJ: How have companies changed since you started in the business world?
BC: What you get used to is working with equals. It makes you manage differently. The hierarchical manager of yesterday ran the Industrial Age company with "Yes sir! Yes sir! Anything you want, sir! I'm right with you, sir!" Now it's all different. When you're running an Information Age company, is you've got to allow a lot of that dissent. In fact, you have to foster dissent. One of my principles is is that if I can't defend it, I shouldn't be doing it. What point is there in mindless agreement? I won't accept "Yes Sir!" for an answer!"
GJ: What do you think about the impact of office technology on management?
BC: One of the greatest boom and bust of the technology era is electronic mail. It's one of the greatest things that's ever been constructed anywhere. It's also a crutch. E Mail is one of the great, great things that's ever been constructed and invented and I'm a full supporter of it, but it's got to be used wisely.
GJ: How so?
BC: I worked with an executive who managed by E Mail. He'd read a report or something in his E-mail folder, disagree with it, and then send a memo saying something like, "I think this is the stupidest thing I've ever read." And he'd blast it out to six people who'd been on the group. As a result, each person in the group would write him another 2-3 page E-mail message explaining why the report wasn't stupid. Everybody would end up spending 45 minutes thoughtfully banging out an electronic answer. And it invariably turned out that when he blasted criticisms like that out onto the network, he would find out that they were right and that they had thought the situation through very carefully. The executive was just not aware of all the reasons that they got to that point because he did not follow the process. I tried to tell this guy that the electronic criticism was pretty insensitive. I suggested that he to the next committee meeting and sit down with the team and say, "Look, I really didn't like this and let me tell you why." And then they'd get a chance to say, "Well, let me tell you the problem." I don't know how many hours we wasted answering electronic messages just to address something that he could've been settled during a brief hallway conversation.
GJ: What are some of the personal challenges that CEO face?
BC: When you're a CEO, you'll be working with people who are older than you, younger than you, smarter than you... You have to remember that the board of directors made you the boss, but your people make you the leader. Nobody is going to respect you just because you've got a title in this company. You have to provide some value in other ways and you have to learn to accept that. I think that one of those fundamental management changes in management that has to take place.
GJ: Can you give me an example of a high tech firm that has bad management?
BC: IBM. IBM is like the Stepford Wives. They take the best people from the best colleges and universities in the country and then IBM snips out some brain so that they become mindless clones. Individually, they're still some of the smartest people I know and I really enjoy them when I get them in a bar, but they don't protest, they don't fight anything, they're afraid to take risks. They're always saying things like "that won't fly in the company." It's the Industrial Age culture.
GJ: How do you encourage employees to grow?
BC: People learn from people. That's the key. I can inspire a couple of people to do the same kinds of things that I do, that's the sort of thing that makes you proud. You start to move the culture into another suite of companies where these people can affect another group of people. I want the best idea, not consensus. What I want is I want you to hear me, and I want me to hear him, and I want him to hear him, and I want her to hear, and if we're all interested in that one goal, the ultimate goal, we come up with a way make this company better.
GJ: How can a CEO change a corporate culture?
BC: Make sure that you have at least one ally that you bring with you, somebody who can help support you and act a buffer. At least you have somebody to commiserate with and somebody that can help you lead the company. It doesn't have to be in a high level position. It could be somebody down in a middle level position, somebody that could help you interpret what you're trying to do with the company. I think it's possible to go into a company and do it without having at least one or two people that you've worked with in the past. It would be too difficult to try and turn one around. You have to bring somebody that has your value set and understanding of the identity that you're trying to create.
GJ: Any other advice for entrepreneurs?
BC: Hire great people. Drive always for excellence. Pick out people in the organization that make a difference. There are 10% of the people that make 90% of the difference and make sure you know who those people are. You want people who will argue with you -- to get the right thing done. No consensus management. No fear of change. Don't accept old ways of doing things. Examine everything that you can do to make things better. Pay great people more money than you pay average people.