Eric Schmidt — Lessons from a Trillion-Dollar Coach (#367)

“You can systematize innovation even if you can’t completely predict it.”
— Eric Schmidt

Eric Schmidt (@ericschmidt) is Technical Advisor and Board Member to Alphabet Inc., where he advises its leaders on technology, business and policy issues. Eric joined Google in 2001 and helped grow the company from a Silicon Valley startup to a global leader in technology. He served as Google’s Chief Executive Officer from 2001-2011, and Executive Chairman 2011-2018, alongside founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page.

Eric serves on the boards of The Mayo Clinic and The Broad Institute, among others. His philanthropic efforts through The Schmidt Family Foundation focus on climate change, including support of ocean and marine life studies at sea, as well as education, specifically cutting-edge research and technology in the natural sciences and engineering. He is the founder of Schmidt Futures, which works to improve societal outcomes through the development of emerging science and technology.

He is the co-author of The New Digital Age, How Google Works, and the new book, Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell, which he co-authored with fellow Google leaders Jonathan Rosenberg (@jjrosenberg) and Alan Eagle (@aeaglejr).

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Overcast, Castbox, or on your favorite podcast platform.

#367: Eric Schmidt — Lessons from a Trillion-Dollar Coach


Want to hear an episode with Silicon Valley’s most feared and well-liked journalist? — Listen to my conversation with Kara Swisher, in which we discuss war stories, missed opportunities, optimistic pessimism, and the art and craft of good questions. (Stream below or right-click here to download.)

#218: The Most Feared and Well-Liked Journalist in Silicon Valley – Kara Swisher


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QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…


  • Connect with Eric Schmidt:

Website | Twitter | LinkedIn | Facebook


  • Why did Eric begin his undergrad in architecture and shift to electrical engineering? [08:17]
  • Eric talks about working at Sun Microsystems in 1983 and contrasts the world of electronics then with today. [10:06]
  • How did Eric wind up at Sun and who does he consider his mentors from those days? [12:22]
  • Has Eric always been known as a clear communicator, or is it something he developed over time? [14:28]
  • What did Eric learn about the executive arts at this point in his career, and how did they differ from the way things are done today? [15:23]
  • When you’re teaching, learning, and doing business in uncharted territory, sometimes you’ve got to write the reference material. [18:19]
  • On the seemingly everywhere venture capitalist John Doerr and how small Silicon Valley is — and was, especially in its early days — despite how vast it might appear to outsiders. [20:26]
  • Eric’s 30-second history of Silicon Valley. [24:07]
  • Does Eric believe Silicon Valley is a unique, non-recurring phenomenon? What would it take to replicate its positive characteristics for entrepreneurship elsewhere? [26:35]
  • John Doerr’s role in introducing Eric to Google. [28:36]
  • Eric sets the scene of his interview with Larry Page and Sergey Brin. [29:57]
  • How time proved all sides right in an argument between Eric, Larry, and Sergey about proxy caches. [31:07]
  • During his Google interview/argument, what clued Eric in to the fact that he was dealing with atypical founders? [32:36]
  • How did Larry and Sergey assess Eric as a potential leader, and what qualities in Eric did John Doerr see as a complement to those of the Google founders? [33:23]
  • In what ways did Eric lend his “adult supervision” to manage the brilliant chaos of early Google and spur its growth? [35:13]
  • Eric explains Sergey’s 70-20-10 model and how it’s been applied at Google. [37:24]
  • What Eric believes a company should focus on to keep growing pains from becoming an equally scalable distraction. [39:29]
  • What Eric considers his most important job as a CEO. [41:08]
  • What did Google’s weekly meeting schedule look like initially, and how has it adapted over time? Is it what Eric would consider ideal? [42:37]
  • Who was Bill Campbell, and why did Eric, together with Jonathan Rosenberg and Alan Eagle, write Trillion Dollar Coach about him? [46:13]
  • Why does coaching matter in the business world, and what made Bill such an exceptionally gifted coach? [47:34]
  • What were Bill’s opinions about starting and running meetings? [49:27]
  • The key difference between a coach and a manager. [50:44]
  • The importance of regularly articulating motivating principles over falling back on feelgood cliches. [52:00]
  • How would Bill facilitate solutions when decision makers didn’t see eye-to-eye? [53:37]
  • When Google went public in 2004, Bill recommended that Eric step aside as chairman, but made sure he would be reinstated as chairman later. What was his thinking behind this, and how did he pitch it to Eric? [54:57]
  • Though Eric was initially resistant to the idea of having a coach, here’s what happened during his first meeting with Bill to convince him otherwise. [56:33]
  • An example of how Bill moved when charged to execute a task. [58:23]
  • How does one person successfully lead 100? Ask Bill Coughran. [59:23]
  • What types of words would Bill Campbell write behind his whiteboard to prompt conversation in a meeting, and how would he structure the results? [1:01:23]
  • How did Bill Campbell walk the delicate line between simultaneously helping Google and Apple — and being so trusted by both? [1:03:10]
  • What was Bill Campbell’s secret for accurately sniffing out BS when people weren’t being honest with him, and what were the consequences of such dishonesty if discovered? [1:06:21]
  • As Bill reportedly told Chegg’s Dan Rosensweig, “I don’t take cash, I don’t take stock, and I don’t take shit.” So how was he compensated? What were his primary motivations? [1:08:01]
  • As someone who was always trying to find the right people for the right problems, how did he handle firing the wrong people when things didn’t work out? [1:10:53]
  • How Bill became part of “the fabric” at Google — and Apple — and facilitated conversations between the two in a way no one else could. [1:11:24]
  • As a coach, how did Bill course correct Eric when he saw him violating his own rules? [1:13:10]
  • What were some of Bill’s workplace and weekday rituals? [1:14:22]
  • What Eric tries to incorporate into his own life from Bill’s Saturday morning routine. [1:15:27]
  • What does a typical morning look like for Eric? [1:16:36]
  • How would Eric recommend that someone in need of a coach vet potential candidates? [1:17:50]
  • What does Eric hope to gain (or lose) by intermittent fasting? [1:18:46]
  • What book does Eric gift the most, and why? [1:21:04]
  • Does Eric have any favorite failures or challenges that set the stage for later successes? [1:24:00]
  • Eric’s co-pilot was instructed to be unhelpful during jet training as a way to prompt leadership-level decisions. When did Eric first notice something amiss, and how did he deal with it? [1:26:33]
  • Has Eric’s exposure to the arts developed his intuition in a way that’s been useful toward making hyper analytical business decisions? [1:27:48]
  • What would Bill Campbell have considered “success?” [1:30:20]
  • What would Eric’s billboard say? [1:31:34]
  • Parting thoughts. [1:34:40]