I was at Apple for three years, never in a high enough position to have a close or particularly personal encounter with Steve, but at every opportunity there ever was—be it public or internal at Apple—I observed him closely to try and learn more about who he is, what kind of man he is and what makes him tick.
These are a few of the key moments of Steve that I’ll never forget; these are the moments that make Steve Jobs the great human being that he is, to me.
Resting his head
There is something very profound about this photo, taken by Lea Suzuki for The Chronicle right after the WWDC 2011 Keynote. Very few of us know what it was like for Steve to participate, even less so what went through his head after it was over. Did he suspect it might’ve been the last time on stage for him, or was he merely tired? Regardless of his thoughts, this moment shows him not as the indomitable businessman which we usually think of, but as merely a fatigued human being who loves his wife.
Macworld 2007: the launch of the iPhone
There are so many choice moments during this world-changing keynote event, but here’s the one image I can always bring back from memory. In unusual fashion, Steve’s entire family was present at the front row for this keynote, and just after he finished showing us all how Apple would change the world forever, he smiled the most genuine, happy, fatherly smile to one of his daughters. She was proud of him, and he was proud to have been able to finally share his life’s greatest work (up to that point) with his own family. In that brief moment, technology and products and Apple clearly came second-place for Steve.
Is it unusual for a father to attend a daughter’s soccer game? No, not at all. Not even for Steve. Of course, Steve had to make a call as he watched—using an iPhone that, at the time, was still a never-released product. The tech world was all abuzz over this rare double-sighting in the wild, Steve and iPhone. But what stood out to me was the simple fact that he took the time to go see his daughter’s soccer game. Family has always seemed incredibly important to Steve, and this tiny example reaffirmed that.
Town Hall meetings with Steve were always a fun event: he’d go over how Apple was doing (consistently, things were even much better than the prior time), and then all employees would be given the chance to ask him, Tim Cook and Phil Schiller a question. I hope the three of them will forgive me for sharing this one anecdote.
One poor fool, a relatively new employee, had the lack of insight to complain about not being paid as much compared to people at other big corporations. Whilst every other employee in the entire company was burying their face in their hands in awkward embarrassment, Steve simply remained calm and graceful—and quietly bemused—and waited for the fool to finish. Steve then quipped that perhaps the guy should ask his managers why they thought he wasn’t worth being paid more, and moved on to the next question.
Of all the CEOs to ask for a raise…
“My job is to not be easy on people. My job is to make them better.”
While by no means a pleasant memory, it’s one I’ll never forget just the same. It was a few months after MobileMe’s launch, and I’d just joined that product group two months before it. We were all called in for a meeting with Steve, who chewed out the entire department without raising his voice more than once.
I forget what specific things he said during that meeting that struck me so hard, but they had nothing to do with MobileMe’s problems. They simply made it clear how much Steve cared about Apple, about great products, and about all the people at Apple who work their asses off night and day, all to deliver their best work time and time again. Steve seemed personally offended, for himself and on behalf of the rest of Apple, by this one department’s failure to deliver. More so even than he was upset over the tarnished reputation, it felt that our failure was taken as a lack of respect, and that offended him even more.
Whether this is how Steve felt about it I’ll never know. What I do know is that I walked out of there not just agreeing with everything he’d said, but also that, were I ever to run a company, I would make sure to care that damn much about everyone and everything in it.
Honest and not full of shit
There is not one specific moment that can sufficiently encapsulate this. But over the past 6-7 years I’ve observed Steve say and do many things, and all of them have been surrounded by so much honesty, sincerity and integrity, it’s hard to even get a good feel for it. Sure, he calculates his answers and phrases them extremely precisely; sometimes he’ll speak the truth but put it in such a way that anyone not paying very close attention may interpret his words as meaning something else entirely.
The only times Steve has ever appeared to not tell the truth were when he doesn’t want to reveal a future Apple product or direction, but is forced to say something. You know how most CEOs typically wrap anything they say in marketing-speak or, worse, bullshit; Steve is nothing like that, and I admire that a lot about him. His utter lack of tolerance for shit is present in every aspect of what he does and says.
John Gruber noted on Twitter he was “reminded again that Steve Jobs is a remarkably good writer.” This is absolutely true; Steve has a tremendous mastery of words, be they written and spoken. It may in fact be one of his finest skils, his ability to articulate exactly what he wants to get across. A skill only very few people, let alone high-ranking CEOs, possess.
A life of his own
Steve lives life differently than most people, and I don’t mean that in the obvious way. To Steve, something made in poor taste is downright incomprehensible. He cannot fathom why anyone would work to make something that shows little to no taste, or foresight, or caring about the result. It boggles him that so many terrible products are produced and sold to consumers. He has very low patience for things that, to him, are a waste of time. One of his many famous quotes is as ambitious as it is poignant: “I want to make a ding in the universe.”
Well, Steve, you’ve made your ding.