Steve Jobs I knew
Much has been written that Jobs was a genius, and has had a gigantic impact on various industries and billions of lives since he stepped down as Apple CEO in August. He was a historical figure equal to Thomas Edison or Henry Ford, and paved the way for many leaders in many other companies.
He did exactly what the head of the company should do: he hired and inspired great people; He relied on the long term, not short term; made huge bets and risked big. He always insisted on creating products of the highest quality and on creating things that would delight and inspire their users, and not mediocre products, like most directors of IT corporations or mobile operators. And he knew how to sell. God, how he knew how to sell.
He lived at the intersection of technology and the humanities, as he liked to speak.
But, of course, there was a more personal side of Steve Jobs, and I was allowed to see part of it, because I spent hours talking with him while he led Apple for the past 14 years. Since I am a columnist and not a reporter who is paid to describe the business of companies, he was more comfortable talking with me about things that he would not discuss with other journalists.
Even after his death, I will not violate the personal nature of these conversations. But I’ll tell you a couple of stories that will show you a person as I knew him.
I did not know Steve at the beginning of Apple's life. I then did not review technology. And I saw him only once, not for long, somehow between his constant work in the company. But a few days after his return to the company in 1997, he began calling me home on Sunday nights, for 4-5 weeks. As an experienced reporter, I knew that in part he tried to flatter me and drag me to the side of the company located in the balance, whose products I had previously recommended to my readers, but now I advised to avoid.
But there was something else in these calls. They turned into 90-minute, large-scale, non-recording conversational marathons, which opened up to me the amazing latitude of this man. Now he talks about the radical ideas of the digital revolution, and then about how disgusting the company's current products are, how disgusting the color, angle, bending or icon is.
After the second such call, my wife expressed her dissatisfaction with what kind of interference he had in our life on our day off. And everything suited me.
Later, he sometimes called to complain about some of the reviews or parts of them, although, in truth, I was very pleased to recommend most of the products for the average tech-savvy user, for whom I write in my column. (Perhaps this was due to the fact that they were his target audience). I knew that he would complain, because every call he started with the words: “Hello, Walt. I do not complain about today's column call; I just have a couple of comments if you don't mind. ” Usually I did not agree with his comments, but that was normal too.
Sometimes, but not always, he invited me to look at some “major” new products before the whole world saw them. Perhaps he did the same with other journalists. We met in a huge conference room with several of his assistants, and he insisted that even with such private meetings all gadgets should be covered with matter so that he could remove them from them with a gleam in his eyes and passion in his voice, like a showman, whom he was. After that we sat for a long, long time discussing the present, future, and generally gossip in the industry.
I still remember the day he showed me the first iPod. I was shocked that the computer company created a unit for music players, but he explained to me without any details that he saw Apple as a company of digital products, not just a computer one. It was the same with the iPhone, iTunes Music Store and later the iPad, to see which he invited me to his home, as he was very ill at that moment to go to the company’s office.
As far as I know, the only technical conference that Steve Jobs regularly attended, the only event that he did not control at the same time, was the D: All Things Digital conference, where he appeared constantly for unprepared interviews on stage. We had one rule that excited him very much: we do not allow the use of slides, which were his main tool.
Once, about an hour before his appearance, I was informed that he was behind the scenes and prepared dozens of slides, even if I reminded him of our “no-slide” rule a week before. I asked two of his main assistants to tell him that he could not use the slides, but they refused, and said that they would have to do it themselves. I went offstage and told him that the slides were going home. It is well known that he could break out in a tirade, refuse to go on stage, and he tried to argue, but after I insisted, he simply said: “OK.” And we went on stage, and he, as always, was a favorite public speaker.
Ice water in hell
At the 5th conference, D suddenly agreed to attend their first extended joint interview on stage with two “sworn enemies”: Steve and the brilliant Bill Gates. But everything almost derailed.
Earlier that day, before Gates arrived, I had a one-on-one chat with Jobs on stage and asked him what it was like to be the main Windows developer, as iTunes by then was already installed on hundreds of millions of Windows computers.
He said: "It's like giving someone ice water in hell." When Gates later arrived and heard about this comment, he was naturally furious because I and my partner Kara Swisher promised both that we would try to keep the whole process up to par.
In a meeting before the interview, Gates told Jobs: “Well, it looks like I'm a representative of hell.” Jobs calmly handed Gates a bottle of cold water, which he had with him. The ice was broken, and the interview was triumphant, both participants behaved like first persons. When it was over, people in the audience applauded while standing, and some even cried. (Interview translation: part one , part two )
I don’t know how Steve talked with his subordinates in the dark years of Apple in 1997-1998, when the company was in the balance, and he had to turn to his sworn enemy - Microsoft for help. Of course, he had a nasty poisonous side, and I’m sure that it turned out once, somehow inside the company and when communicating with partners and suppliers who tell true stories about how hard it was to make deals with him.
But I can honestly say that in many conversations that I had with him, notes of optimism and confidence both in Apple and in the digital revolution as a whole prevailed. Even when he talked about how difficult it was for him to persuade representatives of the music industry to let him sell digital music, and complained about his competitors, at least with me, he always spoke calmly and far-sightedly. Maybe I was honored with this, because I’m a journalist, but it was still nice.
Sometimes in our conversations I criticized the decisions of record companies or telephone operators, and he, to my surprise, strongly disagreed with me and explained to me how the world looked from their point of view, how hard it was in the era of digital decay, and how they would change their minds .
This quality was clearly visible at the time of the opening of the first retail store Apple. This happened in the vicinity of Washington, not far from my house. He arranged a press tour for journalists, and was proud how his father was proud of his firstborn. I said that, of course, there would be few stores, and I asked him what Apple knew about retail.
He looked at me as if he were crazy, and said that there would be a lot of stores, that the company spent a year in the process of creating the external and internal appearance of the store, using a layout somewhere in a secret place. I teased asking if he took a personal part, excluding his participation, as the head of the company, in the choice, for example, of glass transparency and wood color.
He replied that, of course, he accepted.
After a liver transplant, in the process of recovery at his home in Palo Alto, Steve invited me to talk about the changes in the industry that occurred during his illness. The meeting turned into a 3-hour visit, discharged by a walk to a nearby park, which we carried out despite my worries about his painful condition.
He explained to me that he walked every day, and every day he set a more distant goal for himself, and that today his goal was a nearby park. We walked and talked as he suddenly stopped, looking not very good. I begged him to return home; not that I knew anything about cardiopulmonary resuscitation, but I vividly imagined the headline in my head: "The helpless reporter let Steve Jobs die on the sidelines."
But he laughed and refused, and, after a short pause, continued on his way to the park. We sat on a bench, talked about life, our families and our illnesses (a few years before I had a heart attack). He gave me a lecture on the importance of staying healthy. And after we went back.
To my infinite relief, Steve did not die that day. But now he has finally left us, too young, and this is an incredible loss for the whole world.