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Monday, September 5, 2011

The First Time I Met Steve Jobs... [UPDATED] | Fast Company

The First Time I Met Steve Jobs... [UPDATED] | Fast Company: "The First Time I Met Steve Jobs... [UPDATED]"

In Gay Talese's famous Esquire profile of Frank Sinatra, he describes the lasting impact of a brief interaction between Sinatra and screenwriter Harlan Ellison. "The whole thing had lasted only about three minutes," Talese wrote of their exchange. "And three minutes after it was over, Frank Sinatra had probably forgotten about it for the rest of his life--as Ellison will probably remember it for the rest of his life: he had had, as hundreds of others before him, at an unexpected moment between darkness and dawn, a scene with Sinatra."

The same could be said of Steve Jobs and those fortunate enough to have experienced their own scene with the recently resigned Apple CEO. Many who have met Jobs describe their encounters, however brief or inconsequential, as magical--life altering, even. A brush with Jobs can be overwhelming: as inspiring as a handshake from Neil Armstrong, as intimidating as a confrontation with Mike Tyson, as intoxicating as a tour from Willy Wonka. "So I just met Steve Jobs," recalled one New Yorker last year. "All I could muster is, 'I love Apple.'"

A similar sentiment poured out across the web this week, as news of Jobs's retirement made the rounds. On Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, Facebook, fans and colleagues alike described some of their most memorable moments with Apple's chief executive and visionary. Below, a collection of the better anecdotes out there, along with some stories sent to us directly, that show just how influential Jobs has been.

[UPDATE: We've since added more stories below.]

Dan Harden, president, Whipsaw Inc.:

I worked with Steve Jobs in 1989/90 when I was at Frog Design consulting to NeXT Computer where he was CEO. I would present concepts to him and his team every Friday afternoon at 2pm. I often felt on edge before meeting him because he was always cantankerous, intense, razor sharp, and uber-confident, which many misread as arrogance. Most NeXT employees were afraid of him but we designers liked him. He was passionate, analytical, creative, and critical…like us. He loved design so I think he cut us a little slack. Steve had an uncanny ability to see right through a concept and if there was any weakness he would find it and improve it. His genius was true and so unsubtle.

Several years later in 1996 I was working with Larry Ellison, CEO Oracle, on the then futuristic “Network Computer” or N/C. He preferred working secretly one on one, and wanted all meetings to be at his grand Japanese style house in Atherton, away from the prying eyes of his staff and the press. Our final presentation was to be at Larry’s house on March 19, and dinner was going to be served. I pulled into Larry’s driveway and noticed a silver Mercedes sedan with the license plate “PIXAR." It was Steve Job’s car. Larry had invited his buddy Steve over for dinner and an N/C design show and tell. My pulse raced. Larry alone was difficult enough; now I had the two biggest and baddest titans of Silicon Valley to present to.

After a cordial meal I unveiled five computer models. Steve quickly challenged every assumption we had made about the future of computing. "The network can’t handle the speeds or data throughput and the designs are too big and clunky…but keep going because anything is better than Microsoft” he said. Larry and Steve discussed and argued about the future of computing for another hour while I humbly inserted my design angle at the right cues. I wish I had recorded the conversation because everything Steve and Larry had predicted pretty much came true. At one point in my presentation Larry dropped one of the models, shattering it dramatically into a dozen parts. I was stunned but neither Steve or Larry said anything at all…they just kept talking (I needed CPR). I always found that curious. I guess they were too big to worry about a broken model.

The evening concluded with Larry strongly encouraging Steve to rejoin Apple as CEO. Nine months later NeXT was purchased by Apple; Pixar’s Toy Story became a huge box office hit, and the rest is history.

When I left Larry’s house that night I clearly remember saying to Andy Laursen of Oracle (the fourth person that was there that night), "Wow that was pretty cool evening, wasn’t it?"

Brett Lovelady, Chief Instigator, ASTRO Studios, excerpted from Co.Design:

My company ASTRO Studios started in downtown Palo Alto in the mid 90’s where we shared a small private parking lot with Steve and his private office. In fact, our office windows faced each other on this narrow tree-lined street. More than once Steve would be trying to park his stainless steel Mercedes, as our crew was finishing an RC car race on the back lot. He’d patiently wait for us to finish…then give us a look of you boys have your fun…I’m changing the world, or maybe it was a look of envy in our ability to just hang out and play. Tough to know for sure...

[Head to Co.Design for Brett Lovelady's full story about Steve Jobs.]

But the thing I remember most often was seeing Steve looking out the back window of this office where he had set up a little gym, his head bobbing up and down as he climbed the stair master. Our young design team could look out from our front window to see this icon of the valley sweating, swigging water and toweling his red face…just like the rest of us. It gave me a sense that he’s not just a living legend, but also a regular guy with a lot of dreams that come true one step at a time.

Gaston Legorburu, SVP & Worldwide Chief Creative Officer, SapientNitro:

I never worked with him directly, but Clement Mok, one of my mentors, often told stories of just how Steve was focused on the smallest detail. I recall one story about how, even in early days at Apple, Jobs would obsess about the font kerning on the invitation to the company summer outing.

Robert Brunner, founder & partner, Ammunition:

I never actually met Steve. My running joke is that my time at Apple was "between Jobs." But being a designer working in consumer electronics, barely a day goes by that he is not mentioned. The constant question is usually WWSD? (What Would Steve Do?) I often tell people that it really does not matter. That you are not Apple and you are not Steve Jobs. But what's important is to learn from what he and his company does, and apply that to who you are and what you do. To be honest, I at times found myself annoyed by all the focus on Steve (and to some degree annoyed by his impeccable success rate). But it is an indicator of the impact of this man and what he achieved. Everybody running a company, division, group or project wanted to be like Steve.

I think we all have heard the stories about him. Being deep in the details. Pushing people. Berating them. Canning them. Calling at 3 am to ask why the color on a package is slightly off, and to get on fixing it now. Some people thought this was crazy or inappropriate. To me the stories always illustrated what I thought the most important leadership quality a CEO could have. He cared deeply. Cared deeply about the art and quality and integrity and relevance of the goods his company provides. And he requires that all his people live up to this standard. And that they will take the time and spend the money to do it right, and that compromise is something not easily taken. While we were developing our first Beats by Dr Dre products, Jimmy Iovine would call Steve regularly to ask him his advice and thoughts. I was always impressed how he would get back to him immediately with candid feedback. And it was always geared toward doing the right thing.

I find myself saddened by Mr. Jobs retirement. He set a standard that has driven an entire industry and changed most if not all of our lives in some way. I am sure his presence will not fade, though. The legacies and stories are all too good. Like all of us, I do not know all the reasons why he has had to step down, but I sincerely hope he does well and recovers. And that we see him again soon.

Helen Walters, writer:

Steve Jobs once emailed me to quibble with one line in a BusinessWeek slideshow about Apple design. Can't say that happened with other CEOs.

Akshay Kothari, co-founder of Pulse:

About a year ago, my co-founder Ankit Gupta and I were graduate students at Stanford watching Steve Jobs's WWDC keynote in a dorm room. Before releasing the brand new iPhone 4, he mentioned a few apps that he really liked. The first app he mentioned was Pulse, which he called a "wonderful reader if you haven't seen it.” We were just two regular students who had been working on Pulse for a class project, and suddenly, our guru, our role model, gave us five seconds that we will cherish for the rest of our lives. Besides building the most valuable technology company in the world, Steve Jobs has helped start hundreds of companies by giving them a phenomenal platform. Pulse is one of them, and we're grateful for his support.

Ken Carbone, Founding Partner, Carbone Smolan Agency:

I ran into Steve Jobs once on a sunny afternoon on Madison Avenue. He was with his family. I complemented him on a recent speech. He thanked me and we shook hands. At that moment Michelangelo's Creation of Adam popped into my head.

Vic Gundotra, Google's VP of Engineering, via Google+:

One Sunday morning, January 6th, 2008 I was attending religious services when my cell phone vibrated. As discreetly as possible, I checked the phone and noticed that my phone said "Caller ID unknown". I choose to ignore…The message left was from Steve Jobs. "Vic, can you call me at home? I have something urgent to discuss" it said.

"So Vic, we have an urgent issue, one that I need addressed right away. I've already assigned someone from my team to help you, and I hope you can fix this tomorrow" said Steve. "I've been looking at the Google logo on the iPhone and I'm not happy with the icon. The second O in Google doesn't have the right yellow gradient. It's just wrong and I'm going to have Greg fix it tomorrow. Is that okay with you?"

Of course this was okay with me. A few minutes later on that Sunday I received an email from Steve with the subject "Icon Ambulance". The email directed me to work with Greg Christie to fix the icon.

Since I was 11 years old and fell in love with an Apple II, I have dozens of stories to tell about Apple products…In the end, when I think about leadership, passion and attention to detail, I think back to the call I received from Steve Jobs on a Sunday morning in January. It was a lesson I'll never forget. CEOs should care about details. Even shades of yellow. On a Sunday.

Mark Parker, president and CEO of Nike, via Fast Company's 30 Second MBA:

We had worked together on a Nike-Apple collaboration called Nike+. So we took what Apple knows and Nike knows, and brought new technology to the market. Anyway, long story short, he said, "Congratulations. It's great [that you've been named CEO]. You're going to do a great job." I said, "Well, do you have any advice?"

He said, "No, no, you're great." Then there was a pause. "Well, I do have some advice," he said. "Nike makes some of the best products in the world--products that you lust after, absolutely beautiful stunning products. But you also make a lot of crap."

He said, "Just get rid of the crappy stuff, and focus on the good stuff." And then I expected a little pause and a laugh. But there was a pause, and no laugh at the end.

George Bodenheimer, president of ESPN, via Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN, by Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller:

The story goes that ESPN president George Bodenheimer attended the first Disney board meeting in Orlando, Florida, just after the company had bought Pixar, the innovative animation factory, and spotted Apple CEO Steve Jobs in a hallway. It seemed like a good time to introduce himself. "I am George Bodenheimer," he said to Jobs. "I run ESPN." Jobs just looked at him and said nothing other than "Your phone is the dumbest fucking idea I have ever heard," then turned and walked away.

David Carr, media columnist for The New York Times, via Twitter:

Not on Apple beat steady, but career highlight when Steve Jobs called me at home a few times to chew me out or give me a compliment.

Allen Paltrow, student at Princeton University, via Tumblr:

Growing up I was a huge apple fan-boy (fine, still am.) The first NY apple store in Soho opening was probably the coolest thing that happened to me between the ages 6 and 12. For a while I would spend almost every weekend there. Every year for halloween I was a mac, and I made a habit of shaving the Apple logo into my head to celebrate every OS launch. My neighbor Brooke mentioned that Steve Jobs, busy as he is, always reads email sent to his public address. I think I was around 12, and I sent a very enthusiastic and grammatically incorrect message including a picture of my shaved head. Apparently he forwarded it to the head of Public Relations, Katie, and I got invited to the opening of the 5th Avenue Cube. I can never thank them enough. This was probably the high point of my childhood.

Apparently the kid in the blue coat just said “I’m Apple’s biggest fan” to which Steve replied, “what about that guy.”

David Cairns, Apple employee, via Tumblr:

I had always dreamed of working at Apple someday, and, eventually, I did. For part of my time there, I had an office that received no visible sunlight and had no view of the outside. It wasn’t all bad, I was enjoying my work enough, but I’d go out of my way to try to enjoy the sunshine whenever I had it….One day, I was working late and left my office to get dinner at the cafeteria. When I stepped outside, I realized it had been the first time I had seen the sun all day, as it had been foggy that morning, and I had skipped lunch. I looked up at the sun and smiled, enjoying the feeling of it warming my face and arms, and I continued walking across the quad like this, face up at the sky, eyes closed, smiling…Anyway, I knew the distance pretty well, so when I sensed that I was reaching the other side of the quad, I opened my eyes and looked down and Steve was holding the door for me, grinning to himself. I have no idea how long he had been holding it, though it was probably only a couple seconds, long enough to cause him to smile at my basking in the open air.

Those couple seconds probably cost Apple $1.4bn.

Jonathan Berger, Apple intern, via Blogspot:

Steve got to about his 4th question from the audience [at an Apple Town Hall in 2000] and by this point almost every single intern had their hand up. He gestured in my direction but I could tell he was actually looking at an intern in the row right in front of me. I got a bit aggressive and barged ahead with my question anyway before the other intern could begin. Steve smiled a bit in apology to the intern I had just trampled over but let me continue. I was nervous. "Steve, many years ago you left Apple to start Next. But recently you returned to Apple. Why did you come back to Apple?"

[Jobs answered:] "When I was trying to decide whether to come back to Apple or not I struggled. I talked to a lot of people and got a lot of opinions. And then there I was, late one night, struggling with this and I called up a friend of mine at 2am. I said, ‘Should I come back, should I not?’ and the friend replied, ‘Steve, look. I don’t give a fuck about Apple. Just make up your mind,’ and hung up. And it was in that moment that I realized I truly cared about Apple."

David Sheff, freelance journalist, via Playboy magazine's 1987 interview:

The Interview was all but complete when I met [Steve] Jobs at a celebrity-filled birthday party for a youngster in New York City. As the evening progressed, I wandered around to discover that Jobs had gone off with the nine-year-old birthday boy to give him the gift he’d brought from California: a Macintosh computer. As I watched, he showed the boy how to sketch with the machine’s graphics program. Two other party guests wandered into the room and looked over Jobs’s shoulder. ‘Hmmm,’ said the first, Andy Warhol. ‘What is this? Look at this, Keith. This is incredible!’ The second guest, Keith Haring, the graffiti artist whose work now commands huge prices, went over. Warhol and Haring asked to take a turn at the Mac, and as I walked away, Warhol had just sat down to manipulate the mouse. ‘My God!’ he was saying, ‘I drew a circle!’ “But more revealing was the scene after the party. Well after the other guests had gone, Jobs stayed to tutor the boy on the fine points of using the Mac. Later, I asked him why he had seemed happier with the boy than with the two famous artists. His answer seemed unrehearsed to me: ‘Older people sit down and ask, “What is it?” but the boy asks, “What can I do with it?”


Rick Lucas, managing partner, Lucas Design:

During the go-go days of the mid to late 1980s, the primary criteria for landing a job in the nascent high technology industry was the ability to hang on to the tiger’s tail. In my case, I was only six years removed from a rural Iowa high school when I had the experience of working with Steve and his inner circle on development of a third-party software product for NeXT.

For nearly anyone working on the frontlines of high-tech at the time (especially the self-taught, as so many of us were), Steve Jobs was the zeitgeist personified.

With several friends at Apple, I was well acquainted with the Apple milieu. Upon visiting the NeXT offices for the first time, it was clear that Steve was attempting to build something very different in both physical and cultural space. While modest in size, the NeXT offices were extraordinarily well appointed (including a remarkable free-standing spiral stairway, bespoke by Steve and which I recall as being one of the few of its kind in the world).

In vivid contrast to the physical space was a classic Silicon Valley bootstrap culture that screamed ‘laid back’ (with seemingly displaced hippies at every turn), while possessing the energy of a coiled spring just beneath the surface.

I met with the NeXT inner circle numerous times over a period of several months, with Steve in attendance at each meeting. Reputation aside, in my entire experience with Steve I found him to be soft-spoken and gracious to the point of being deferential. What others have characterized as bluntness struck me as simply an efficiency of words. Each word spoken by Steve furthered an objective.

In the end, I was offered a job at NeXT. I declined, afraid the energy of the place, and of Steve Jobs, would consume me.

In the [above] photograph from 1988, I am pictured on the left with Steve Jobs on the right. A NeXT cube can be seen in the background.)

Mike Evangelist, former director of product marketing for applications at Apple:

I worked at Apple from 2000 to 2002. I had occasional interaction with Steve as part of my job. But this one event sticks out.

It was early on November 30th, 2001, and I was sitting at my desk in 1 Infinite Loop reading the news. I was stunned when I saw a headline saying the George Harrison had died. As with many others of my generation, his music had been an important part of my life for many years. It really hit me hard. I sat there in a dark contemplative mood for quite awhile, feeling quite alone in my grief. But then I realized I wasn’t alone; many of my colleagues at Apple were Harrison fans, and I was sure they’d also feel the need express some of their feelings at this moment. This gave me an idea…one that took considerable courage on my part: I would suggest to Steve that Apple put some sort of tribute on the home page. Up to this point, all my dealings with Steve had been strictly business, and I was afraid he’d think I was some kind of sentimental looney. But my feelings pushed me forward…I sent Steve this note:

Then I waited nervously.

Several hours passed with no response, so I concluded that he wasn’t interested and sort of put it out of my mind. But that wasn’t the end of it. Later that evening, I’m back at my desk and get a call from Tom McDonald (the Final Cut Pro product manager) who tells me he had just come from a meeting with the web design group and they were all working overtime tonight because of me. "What? What do you mean?" I asked. Turns out that Steve did not think it was a stupid idea, as I feared, but instead had put the web team to work on coming up with something suitable.

So, late that night, after a couple rounds back and forth with Steve to choose the best photos, the Apple home page became this:

It was one of my proudest moments at Apple: to be part of a company that lets its heart guide its actions. And the company is built that way because of Steve.

Greg Grusby of Industrial Light & Magic:

It was July of 2002, and I had been asked to take part in a series of grand opening week presentations called “Made on a Mac” at the new Apple SoHo store in Manhattan. Having met a bunch of the Apple team at Macworld Expo my friend Glenn, who worked for Apple retail, and I decided to visit the store and check it out.

We took the subway down to Spring Street and walked over to the store that was filled with eager shoppers jostling to enter this new temple of Apple products. Glenn and I made it inside and managed to meet up with Ron Johnson who was the VP of Apple retail at the time. We were speaking with Ron for about five or six minutes when he began to appear a bit distracted, I noticed that the chatter in the store had become much quieter as well. Glenn who had taken a small step away from me and closer to Ron, now had a strange expression on his face. I mentioned to Ron that I thought the store was beautiful and inviting and unlike any other retail experience I had ever had seen. And the stairs, well they were simply a work of art and I was gushingabout how the architects had really outdone themselves and how you could see the thought that went into even the smallest details like the hardware supporting the stairs. Ron smirked a bit and I got the sensation that someone was standing right behind me. As I slowly turned to see whom Ron and Glenn were looking at and, there he was, Steve Jobs in the flesh. I was wondering how long he had been there as Ron made a brief introduction of Glenn and I. Steve turned to me and said, “I’m glad you like the stairs, we worked really hard on getting them just right.” Glenn and I congratulated him on the opening and stepped away so he and Ron could speak.

We headed upstairs to see the theater and the Genius Bar and wander around a bit. A bit later I saw Ron, he smiled and said – You chose the right thing to complement, Steve was personally involved in the design of the stairs.

Lisen Stromberg, neighbor of Steve Jobs, via WordPress:

I first met Steve (does anyone call him Mr. Jobs anymore?) years ago at a backyard pool party. I was so flummoxed by the off chance I was breathing in his DNA, I could barely say a word. I am sure I made a winning first impression as I stumbled over my own name when we were introduced. I watched as he swam in the pool with his son. He seemed like a regular guy, a good dad having fun with his kids…

[Head here to read Stromberg's full story about her neighbor, Steve Jobs.]

It was at Halloween not long after when I realized he actually knew my name (yes, my name!). He and his wife put on a darn scary haunted house (to be specific, a haunted garden). He was sitting on the walkway, dressed like Frankenstein. As I walked by with my son, Steve smiled and said, “Hi Lisen.” My son thought I was the coolest mom in town when he realized The Steve Jobs knew me…

While Newsweek and the Wall Street Journal and CNET continue to drone on about the impact of the Steve Jobs era, I won’t be pondering the MacBook Air I write on or the iPhone I talk on. I will think of the day I saw him at his son’s high school graduation. There Steve stood, tears streaming down his cheeks, his smile wide and proud, as his son received his diploma and walked on into his own bright future, leaving behind a good man and a good father who can be sure of the rightness of this, perhaps his most important legacy of all.

KC ("kc!") Bradshaw, then contracted by JumpSport Trampolines, via his blog:

I can say that going into it, I was strangely nervous. I guess, it is not every day that you get to meet one of the most famous icons in the modern computer business... especially at his house, while he is finishing his breakfast.

Steve lives in a nice, big expensive house in Palo Alto--but it is a different kind of nice then what I would expect. It is more like a Buddhist-Nice than a Trump-nice…You walk through a front yard filled with fruit trees, through an opening in the exterior, 6 foot wall running around the property; into and open front yard which splits into the left to go up to the main house and to go straight back through an antique garage to the backyard. He lives on a corner, and so he has a rather large yard for this part of peninsula, and it is filled with flowers, vegetables, fruit trees and rose bushes. The garden is naturally (yet orderly) landscaped with nice pathways and benches everywhere. The centerpiece of the garden is a large teepee-shaped trellis. Quite an understated elegance.

I will spare you most of the boring details of the day... We set up in the back corner of the yard, and began the install which took us 3 hours to complete. During the process, he would come out and check on us every 45 minutes or so, usually staying for a bit to chat about the trampoline, the company that built it, the manufacturing process, or how the trampoline could be simplified and improved upon. We didn't really get any opportunities to chat about things outside the task at hand, but it was nice that he would spend any time at all with us. He even got up to test-jump a bit too (I really wish I had that on video).

[Head to KC's blog to read his full story.]

Before we finished the install, his daughter discovered the present and came outside to start jumping. She was having a party of some sort with all her friends, and was very excited to have a new trampoline! We watched the girls play as we hung around, waiting for Steve to finish a conversation in his front yard.

He finally finished talking and came around back. Rob explained a little about the safety rules and the specifics of the install as we walked back towards the back corner of the yard. He jumped up inside the trampoline and started jumping with his daughter. It was really sweet.

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