In the middle of 2010, Dick Costolo was suddenly, and quite unexpectedly, told he was fired from Twitter.
The person who delivered the news was Bill Campbell, the esteemed CEO coach of Silicon Valley, according to Nick Bilton’s book on the founding of Twitter, Hatching Twitter, A True Story Of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal.
Campbell is a big deal in Silicon Valley. A one-time college football coach, Campbell was the CEO of Intuit. He’s currently the chairman of Intuit. He was good friends with Steve Jobs, and sits on Apple’s board. He was also on Google’s board.
In 2008, Google’s Eric Schmidt said of Campbell, “His contribution to Google – it is literally not possible to overstate. He essentially architected the organizational structure.”
Bill Gurley, a venture capitalist said of Campbell, “When you have Bill coaching the entrepreneurs, it’s like having extra wildcards in a game of five-card draw.”
However, at Twitter, Campbell wasn’t quite as helpful.
As portrayed by Bilton, he was meddlesome and slightly problematic for Twitter. And some people who have read the Twitter book are saying it makes him look bad.
Costolo was surprised when Campbell said he was fired. At the time, Costolo was Twitter’s COO, and had been led to believe he was going to be CEO.
An investor in Twitter told us Campbell was unexpectedly “freelancing” when he told Costolo he was out of the company. (This investor also says he didn’t think the story would ever get out, so kudos to Bilton for breaking the story.)
The founding and creation of Twitter is a messy story, well detailed in Hatching Twitter. When Campbell fired Costolo, Twitter was in upheaval. The CEO at the time, Ev Williams, was about to be fired by the board for bad, and slow, decision making. The board was going to replace Williams with Costolo.
Campbell wasn’t officially associated with Twitter when he decided to fire Costolo. He was Williams’ CEO coach, and he often sat in on board meetings.
Williams, after initially resisting stepping down as CEO, eventually realised he had no choice in the matter.
According to Bilton’s book, Williams, Campbell, and Twitter’s board held a meeting to talk about the CEO transition. In the meeting, Williams said Costolo was “not the right guy to be CEO.”
Campbell responded by saying, “So if he’s not the right guy, should we let Dick go?”
Williams said, “If I step down as CEO, I will likely be taking Dick’s role, so yes, we should let him go.”
Campbell said, “OK!” And jumped up to tell Costolo.
Peter Fenton, a board member, said, “Shouldn’t we talk about this?”
Campbell said, “No. Guys, we’re running a start-up here.”
He burst out of the room, went and fired Costolo. According to Bilton, after he was fired, Twitter investors Fred Wilson and Bijan Sabet called Costolo almost immediately telling him he wasn’t fired.
This wasn’t the first time Campbell talked out of turn. He was the one that told Williams the board wanted to fire him, but we’re told that Campbell fired Williams ahead of schedule. But, at least in that case, he wasn’t wrong. The board did want Williams out as CEO.
Campbell’s relationship with Williams looks bad in Bilton’s book. Williams trusted Campbell. Bilton’s book, which is told largely from Williams perspective, suggests that was a mistake.
When Campbell sat in on Williams’ presentations to Twitter’s board, he would clap loudly and say, “You’re doing a f**king great job!” Then when Williams walked out of the room, Campbell turned to everyone in the room and said, “You gotta get rid of this f**king guy! He doesn’t know what the f**k he’s doing.”
Eventually, Campbell’s comments, combined with complaints from senior staffers led to Williams ouster from Twitter.
We emailed someone that’s friends with Campbell asking to connect us to get his take on the story. We were told he hardly ever talks to journalists, which might be part of the reason we’re only getting what appears to be Williams’ side of this story.