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Apple board member Bill Campbell cut ties to Google over rivalry


Apple Board of Director member and Intuit Chairman Bill Campbell revealed in an interview that increased competition between Apple and Google forced him to choose between the two companies, eventually causing him to sever his ties to Google.

In an interview with Miguel Helft of The New York Times, Campbell admitted that his role as a board member at Apple and an adviser to Google came into conflict as Apple and Google began competing in the smartphone market.

“I don’t do much for Google anymore,” said Campbell. "The Android competition has changed the whole dynamic. I don’t want to be a burden to either company. I don’t want to be a focal point for any dissent.”

Campbell, who is known in Silicon Valley simply as "Coach," served as an executive vice president at Apple in the 1980s and CEO of Intuit, before joining Apple's board of directors in 1997. In addition to his formal roles, Campbell has also served as a mentor to many prominent Silicon Valley executives and companies, including Google and its CEO Eric Schmidt.

"His contribution to Google - it is literally not possible to overstate. He essentially architected the organizational structure," Schmidt said of Campbell, in a 2008 profile of the "Coach" in Fortune Magazine. In the profile, Apple CEO Steve Jobs was quoted as saying of Campbell, "There's something deeply human about him."

In Monday's Times interview, Campbell expressed regret over the Fortune profile, which brought him out from "under the radar," changing him from "an anonymous guy who wandered around in the Valley" into "someone people focused on."

According to Campbell, there was a time when no one cared about his role at Google or Apple, but things have changed. "Today it is problematic," he said. "There is nothing I would do for either company that would jeopardize one of the other, but that's not the point."

A report by the Times in March highlighted Campbell as a potential "peacemaker" in the growing feud between Apple and Google, but went on to note that both Jobs and Schmidt had lobbied Campbell to sever ties with the competition, reportedly going so far as to give him ultimatums. Citing a person with knowledge of the situation, the report claimed Campbell had severed his ties with Google.

Campbell confirmed in his recent interview with the Times that he had indeed chosen Apple, although he "still talks to Eric Schmidt once in a while," according to Monday's report. However, Campbell wasn't the only board member to have to cut ties with Google. In October of last year, Apple board member Dr. Arthur Levinson, former CEO of Genentech, resigned from the Google Board of Directors after the U.S. Federal Trade Commission began investigating the Apple and Google for having "interlocking directorates," which are forbidden for competing companies because of antitrust concerns.

Schmidt was also a member of Apple's board of directors, but resigned last year due to potential conflicts of interest as Apple and Google began to compete over smartphones, browsers, and operating systems.

Currently, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore appears to be the only Apple board member to maintain formal ties to Google, as Apple's press bio for him and his official website both list him as a "Senior Advisor" to Google in addition to his role as a member of Apple's board of directors.

The growing competition between Apple and Google has become increasingly personal, with the two companies' executives disagreeing over Android and the iPhone. According to the Times, meetings between Apple and Google after the introduction of Android "turned confrontational" as Jobs accused Google of "stealing iPhone features."

"We did not enter the search business. They entered the phone business," Jobs reportedly said during a company meeting. "Make no mistake, Google wants to kill the iPhone. We won't let them."

In July, Google cofounder Larry Page questioned Jobs' assertion that Google copied Apple, calling it "a little bit of rewriting history."

"We had been working on Android a very long time, with the notion of producing phones that are Internet enabled and have good browsers and all that, because that did not exist in the market place," Page reportedly said. "I think that characterization of us entering after is not really reasonable."