Untold Stories About Steve Jobs

One year after his passing, we asked friends of Steve Jobs for memories never shared with the public

Published: Nov 5, 2012 06:46:29 AM IST
Updated: Nov 5, 2012 11:00:10 AM IST
Untold Stories About Steve Jobs
Image: Getty Images

Hide the Porsches
Randy Adams, among the first employees at Next
Software engineer Randy Adams initially turned down Steve Jobs’ offer to work at NeXT, the computer company started by Jobs after his ouster from Apple. It was 1985. Adams wasn’t ready to go back to work after selling his pioneering desktop software publishing company. Within a few days Jobs was on Adams’ answering machine. “You’re blowing it, Randy. This is the opportunity of a lifetime, and you’re blowing it.” Adams reconsidered.

Adams, using some of the cash he’d earned from the sale of his company, bought a Porsche 911 at the same time Jobs did. To avoid car-door dings, they parked near each other—taking up three parking spaces between them. One day Jobs rushed over to Adams’ cubicle and told him they had to move the cars.

“I said, ‘Why?,’ and he said, ‘Randy, we have to hide the Porsches. Ross Perot is coming by and thinking of investing in the company, and we don’t want him to think we have a lot of money.’” They moved the cars to the back of NeXT’s offices in Palo Alto, California, and Perot invested $20 million in the company in 1987 and took a seat on the board.

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Image: Getty Images

Adams recalls the time Bill Gates showed up at NeXT for a meeting. The receptionist downstairs called Jobs, who sat upstairs, to let him know Gates was in the lobby. “I could see him sitting in his cube, not really busy. But he didn’t get up or call Gates up. He left him waiting in the lobby for an hour. That speaks to their rivalry.”

NeXT engineers, Adams said, took the opportunity to go downstairs and ply Gates with questions. “We enjoyed it and spent an hour talking to him until Steve finally called him in.”

Adams said he left NeXT after disagreeing with Jobs about the use of the optical drive in the NeXT workstation, which he felt would be too slow. Some time later Jobs convinced Adams to start a software business around NeXT, which he did with a $2 million investment from Sequoia Capital. But as the business was under way, Jobs called Adams again to let him know that NeXT was going to give up its workstation business and focus instead on software.

“He told me that the cost of hardware is coming down and we think it’s a commodity. I said, ‘Then why don’t you sell PCs?’ Jobs told me, ‘I’d rather sell dog s--- than PCs.’”

Scuff marks in  the mini-store
In his first public appearance after revealing he had surgery to remove a pancreatic tumour in 2004, Jobs met with reporters (including me) at the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto, to unveil a new 750-sq-ft ‘mini’ store design. Half the size of an Apple retail store, the mini featured an all-white ceiling, lit from behind; Japanese stainless steel walls, with holes around the top for ventilation that mimicked the design of the PowerMac G5; and a shiny, seamless white floor made with “material used in aircraft hangars”, Jobs said at the time.

Before the curtain draped across the storefront came down, though Jobs was having a meltdown, refusing to step outside and greet reporters. Why? Because the store design that looked so great on paper didn’t stand up to real-world use. The walls showed off every handprint and the floors had black scuff marks from the handful of people readying the store for the big reveal.

Jobs was ultimately convinced to step outside, and the curtain was drawn. When I saw the floor, I turned to Jobs, standing next to me, and asked if he had been involved in every aspect of the design. He said yes. “It was obvious that whoever designed the store had never cleaned a floor in their life,” I told him. He narrowed his eyes at me and stepped inside.

A few months later an Apple executive told me that Jobs had all the designers return to the store after it opened and spend the night on their knees cleaning the white surface. After that, Apple switched to the stone tiles now prevalent in its designs. —CG

Untold Stories About Steve Jobs
Image: Norbert von der Groeben / Reuters

They’ll Get  used to it 
Marc Andreessen, partner at Andreessen Horowitz
Andreessen recalls a double-date he had with Jobs a few months before the iPhone was unveiled. “In the fall of 2006, my wife, Laura, and I went out to dinner with Steve and his wife, Laurene. Sitting outside the restaurant on California Avenue in Palo Alto waiting for a table to open up, Steve pulled his personal prototype iPhone out of his pocket and said, ‘Here, let me show you something.’ He took me on a tour through all of the features and capabilities of the new device.

“After an appropriate amount of oohing and aahing, I ventured a comment. BlackBerry aficionado as I was, I said, ‘Boy, Steve, don’t you think it’s going to be a problem not having a physical keyboard? Are people going to be okay typing on the screen?’ He looked me in the eye with that piercing gaze and said, ‘They’ll get used to it.’”

Blunt, But With Taste
Guy Kawasaki, Apple’s chief evangelist and liaison to the Mac developer community Kawasaki was working in his cubicle after the Mac was introduced in 1984 when Jobs showed up with another guy. Jobs asked Kawasaki for his opinion about a program from a Mac developer called Knoware, which was short for the knowledge software the company made.

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Image:Roger Ressmeyer / Corbis
“I tell him what I think, which is extremely negative. When I’m done, he turns to the guy. The he looks back at me. And then he says, ‘Guy, this is the CEO of Knoware.’

“[He had] a lack of hesitancy to hang his employees out to dry. That’s indicative of Steve in general. If you’re a Steve fan, you say, ‘See, he knew how to cut through all the bull.’ If you’re not a Steve fan, he lacked social graces.

“Even though he treated people like this, the reason he got such great people to work there, unlike most bosses, is that he appreciated great work. There are two components to giving employees great feedback. It takes someone who has the taste to know when you did great or lousy, and it takes someone who’s blunt enough to tell you. There are plenty of people who don’t have taste but are blunt.

“If you wanted to do great work, you can do it at Apple. But there’s a cost— public humiliation. Something like this could never have happened at HP. On the other hand, you couldn’t do your best work at HP because there is no one there to appreciate it. Where would you rather work—Apple or HP?”

A little Hand in the screen
Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari, who hired Jobs in 1974
Bushnell says what he remembers most about Jobs was his intensity. “Steve was the first guy I found who would be regularly curled up under his desk in the morning after an all-nighter. A lot of people think that success is luck and being in the right place at the right time. But I think if you’re willing to work harder than anybody else, you can create an awful lot of your own luck.

“We tended to have this philosophical relationship. He liked to talk about big ideas and where they come from. He was always interested in talking about creating products and how do you know when a product is ready for market.”

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Image: Getty Images

In the early 1980s Bushnell bought a 15,000-sq-ft house in Paris and invited his Silicon Valley friends to a housewarming party. There was a band, lots of food and drink, lavishly attired guests—and Jobs, who had left Atari to start Apple in 1976. While everyone else was dressed up for the party, Jobs showed up in his Levi’s.

Bushnell remembers “sitting on the Left Bank [the day after the party], me sipping coffee and Steve always drinking tea, sort of watching Paris walk by. We had a delightful conversation about the importance of creativity. He was at a phase where he knew that Apple II was nearing the end of its life. He was not happy with Apple III. He was starting to kick around ideas for Lisa and what was going to be Macintosh. We were talking about trackballs and joysticks and mice, and the whole idea of having a little hand in the screen, which is essentially what the mouse was.

“I last saw him a year before his death. He was very, very thin, but he didn’t look frail. He had a strength about him. He said, ‘I think I’m going to beat this thing.’”

A Christmas story
Regis McKenna, Apple’s original marketing guru
McKenna met the 22-year-old Jobs when he drove up to his house on  a motorcycle and talked about how he wanted to build Apple into a global brand. McKenna sat in on Apple executive meetings from 1983 to 1987, and the two remained close. “In 1998 my wife and I bought five iMacs as Christmas gifts for our grandchildren. We watched them open their presents, and when five-year-old Molly opened her iMac, she said, ‘Life is good.’ Unfortunately, Molly’s iMac developed a problem after a few hours. The dealer said he was not authorised to exchange it for another one due to an Apple policy. Repair would take several weeks, he said. I sent an email to Steve and asked him about Apple’s return/exchange policy. Within minutes my phone rang. It was Steve. He asked what the problem was and the name of the dealer. ‘I’ll call you back,’ he said. A few minutes later the phone rang and it was a very apologetic dealer. ‘I have a new iMac here for your granddaughter,’ he said. I emailed Steve, thanking him and assuring him that he had made my granddaughter’s Christmas a happy one. Steve immediately replied with a simple ‘Ho, ho, ho.’”

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Image: Getty Images
A friend in need
Heidi Roizen, venture capitalist
Roizen’s company T/Maker distributed software for the Mac in the 1980s. She had many experiences with Jobs she would call “character-building”, but one was more personal.

“On March 1, 1989 Steve called to talk about a negotiation, and as it was Steve I took the call, even though I had learned the night before that my father had died suddenly while on a business trip in Paris. When I told Steve, he said, ‘Why are you working? You need to go home. I’ll be right over.’

“I had sofas, but Steve didn’t like to sit on sofas. He asked me to talk about my father, what was important about him, what I loved best about him. Steve’s mother had passed away a few months earlier, so I think he was particularly attuned to how I felt and what I needed to talk about. I will always remember and appreciate what an incredible thing he did for me in helping me grieve.”

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Image: Corbis

He notices everything

Emily Brower Auchard, who worked on the pr team for Steve Jobs at Next
Auchard says that Jobs was a “noticer” who picked up on the smallest detail. “One of my tasks was to sit in press interviews with Steve and take notes. Once before an interview, I realised I was wearing two different shoes. I had dressed quickly that morning and had grabbed what I thought were a pair of black pumps. They weren’t. I called my boss for advice. She said I absolutely needed to fix the situation because Steve would definitely notice. So I drove like a maniac to Stanford Mall and bought replacement shoes at Nordstrom and sped back to NeXT’s offices. It was the fastest shopping decision I ever made.”

(As told to Connie Guglielmo)

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(This story appears in the 09 November, 2012 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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  • Geetha

    Thank you for the heartwarming stories that show us the other side of Steve Jobs.

    on Nov 7, 2012