Steve Jobs 1955-2011

Posted: October 5, 2011 in Business, Technology and Business
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Steve Jobs passed away this afternoon.

What can you say about a guy that will be remembered in history books for the rest of time?

What I’ve always said about Steve:

He is the only person I know that is everything anyone has ever said about him… all the insanely great, over-the-top stuff… and all the “mercurial” comments, too.

I remember the first time I ever heard Steve speak… he gave a talk at the Stanford Business School… and — honest to God — I was so fired up after listening to him that I was — physically — buzzing… I immediately parked myself in the library and for the next hour or so wrote down everything I could remember about his talk and everything I was thinking and feeling.  I wanted to capture the way I was feeling forever.

To this day, I have never been affect more by a speech in my entire life… it was my first exposure to true, pure, unadulterated charisma.

It wouldn’t be the last, though.

I, somehow, was placed in the second row — dead center stage — sitting exactly behind Ross Perot and Steve’s then recently acknowledged daughter Lisa — during the NeXT Computer unveiling in 1988.  (Thanks, Dan’l!)

Steve killed that day, too.  As he did throughout his entire career, Steve knew how to turn on the magic like no one else.

Years before the NeXT introduction, I came to work with Steve at my old company, T/Maker.

We published a software product of his… and wanted to know what he thought of a tentative name, WriteNow.  He — amazingly — loved the name… which, apparently, was quite a shocker because everyone at NeXT said Steve was going to hate anything we came up with.

Our jubilation turned to horror, though:  That name was taken by not one but two other companies.

We told Steve we couldn’t use the name and he said, “tough, it’s perfect, get it.”

I spent the next three months of my life convincing and cajoling and pleading and negotiating.  And in the end, even though we had no legs to stand on, we got the name… just like Steve knew we would.

During those days Steve was definitely a study in contrasts.  He could be extraordinarily tight-fisted… then turn around and pay designer Paul Rand $100K — a fortune back then — for the NeXT logo… its claim to fame, of course, the small, soft “e” — emphasizing “education” — sitting next to the other three big, stark, cap letters.

And that was worth $100K??

Didn’t matter… as always, image — branding — was everything.

I got in one drag-down, knock-down argument with Steve… so I can say with absolute first-hand knowledge that he could pull strings in you that you didn’t even know you had.

When he finally realized he was barking up the wrong tree, he, somehow, masterfully, nimbly, simply changed the entire cadence of the conversation, making it somehow feel like he wasn’t the biggest jerk in the world, but rather, that we arrived in a good spot and were better off having “discussed the issues.”

Later I came to understand this was just Steve’s way… he would push hard, many times unreasonably, just to see if there was anything else he could learn… and, secretly, even perversely, to see how you would respond.

To this day I haven’t really reconciled how I felt about the episode.  It was incredibly frustrating… but also incredibly thrilling.

Two things, though, became incredibly clear:  (1) you simply could not be anything but at the top of your game around him, because (2) Steve was probably the most difficult person in the world to work with.

No doubt, he did get incredibly great things out of people.

But, unfortunately, that always came at a great price.

When brute force failed, Steve could, reluctantly, switch gears.

Steve had pummeled us in contract negotiations at T/Maker… basically got 98% of everything he wanted… except for one, tiny little thing.  Go figure, that one, tiny little thing reared its ugly head.  Instead of graciously accepting the contractual language, he pulled the, “look, I know what the contract says, but in my heart, this is what I meant for that paragraph to say…”.

Heidi Roizen, my dear friend and partner at T/Maker, and I have laughed about that one for years… he really would — unabashedly — try absolutely every trick in the book to get what he wanted.

One of the best back-handed compliments I have ever received was from Heidi.  We were in the throes of a user interface debate — I think, seriously, arguing about the placement of a single pixel in a small icon — when she wheeled toward me and said, “geez, Royal, you and Steve are the only two guys I know that have infinite energy to argue about the most meaningless things.”

I know she didn’t mean that as a compliment — but I took it as one — and I suspect Steve would have taken it as such, too… his attention to detail was, of course, legendary.

Doesn’t mean he always got it right…

… I’m still upset with him for pushing a round mouse on the world for not one but two versions of the iMac (a mouse is a navigation device, so it’s imperative that you know north-south orientation without looking)…

… or actually thinking cursor keys didn’t have their place in a graphical interface…

… or, as a young chairman of a young computer company, actually calling the employees in the division that produced 99% of his revenues “bozos”…

… but, it did mean he never gave up trying to get it right.

People have always compared Steve to Bill Gates.  As a competitor, I have always said Steve was, by far, more dangerous.  Bill used logic and reason and always did the strategically smart business move — even if it was vicious and ruthless.  But Steve let emotion and ego and, well, craziness guide him… which made him unpredictable… which is far more dangerous.

Crazy like a fox, eh?

I always felt a bit sorry for Steve in those days… for all he had achieved — and even at that early stage, he had achieved a lot — it still felt like he was missing something… I didn’t really see him have any good friends.  Seemed he was very much a victim of his own circumstance.

Of late I’ve heard stories of him vacationing alone in Hawaii… which made me sad… but, more often than not, I’ve heard things that sounded, well, incredibly normal… and those things always put a smile on my face.  I think what was missing from the Steve I knew so many years ago was family… and I am happy he found that later in life.

When Steve was kicked out of Apple, I remember him saying, “I still have 4 or 5 great products in me.”  I always thought that was bravado talking, that he was already wealthy, already guaranteed a spot in the tech hall of fame, and that, ultimately, his grinding, my-way-or-the-highway approach would continue to be his undoing.

But Steve fooled everyone… he got better with age.  Probably his most inspiring lesson of all.

From what I know, Steve’s illness should have taken him years ago.

Only Steve could dictate to death itself.

Steve, not sure I can say this about anyone else… but the world will really be a different place without you.

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