This is not so much about Steve Jobs but about how Steve effected me.
Like so many, the death of Steve Jobs has played a big role in my thinking since hearing the news on Wednesday. Steve played an important role in my life although he hardly knew me. The first time I met Steve was at the PC Forum in 1982 which was started by Ben Rosen and later taken over by Ester Dyson. There are some great photos of the PC Forum over the years, but unfortunately, they start at 1984. I remember setting next to Steve in the audience and having some discussion. He was 26 years old and I was 36 years old. I wish I could remember what we discussed. At that time Apple was selling the Apple II. I had come to announce the Pro 300 series (I was responsible for that product line at Digital Equipment Company which was the number two computer company in the world then). It is probably hard for those that know me now to imagine that I was probably as passionate tabout product design then as Steve was to become later. Here is the Pro 350:
I will come back to this a bit later because it really has the most to do with what I am trying to express in this blog. It is easy to imagine during my conversation with Steve that he could have asked me to join Apple Maybe I would have but probably not. I doubt that could have seen myself working for someone so much younger than me (ego) and I probably would not have been willing to take the financial risk. At that point, my career at Digital was ascending. I had the strong sponsorship of the CEO (Ken Olsen) and I really thought my efforts with the Pro would change the world of computing. I could hardly have guess that just two years later, I would be the president of an Apple II Clone company, Franklin Computer, and locked in a legal battle with Apple and Steve Jobs.
The evening before the forum, I attended the speakers dinner. It was an amazing dinner and really my first real introduction to the world of PC entrepreneurs. Amongst the attendees were Steve Jobs, Bill Gates (also 26), Don Estridge who lead the development of the IBM PC, and Adam Osborne. Adam I recall said the key to wining in the personal computer market place was building and adequate but low cost product (similar to the net book argument). Steve eventually took the opposite approach. Of these, only Bill is still alive and is no longer active in the computer industry. Don died a few years later at the age of 48. Adam died in 2003 at the age of 64. Steve died just now at the age of 56. These and some of the others attending were really the founders of the PC era. My own contribution(not to be compared to Bill and Steve of course) to creating the computer industry we now know would have to wait a decade more, when I as Vice President of Corp Development at Intel, drove much of the early development of today’s residential broadband networks.
I left Digital Equipment in early in 1983. It was clear to me that my work there was not going to be successful. The Professional 300 series computer that I had developed with so much love and passion was incomplete and two expensive albeit way ahead of their time with the first 5 inch winchester disk, bit map graphics and Ethernet connectivity (all this in 1983). Digital did not have the desire or ability to really market in the developing PC world. So for a while, I considered leaving with a few of my most talented staff and to start a local area networking company (by that time I was in love with networking technology). However, I was too scared to do a start up and when I got the offer to join Franklin Computer, I took it. You can read a pretty funny article about me and Franklin here. Franklin had a clone of the Apple II just as Compaq had clone of the IBM PC. But there were lots of legal differences and Apple sued Franklin in a landmark case. Apple never actually won but the destroyed Franklin’s ability to raise capital. We were growing very quickly and approaching 100 million dollars in sales in a first full year of operations. But without the ability to raise additional cash and with our bank canceling our line of credit the company was headed for disaster. I had joined Franklin to use its momentum and the money we expected to raise in an IPO (were in registration when the appeal court decided to re hear the case) to build a real computer company to fully compete in the market. We tried to work things out with Apple. We offered to pay them a big licensing fee and help develop the market. John Sculley who was then CEO of Apple seemed interested in some possible arrangement and settlement but evidently Steve Jobs would hear nothing of it and wanted us dead. He got his wish. I left a few months before Franklin went into bankruptcy for a brief period in order to wipe out the common shareholders.
A few months later, I joined Intel in 1984. About ten years later, Andy Grove asked me and Les Vadasz to join him and visit Pixar with Steve Job. We went to Steve’s house in Palo Alto. The same house where he died. We sat in the kitchen with Steve and talked for a while. His wife Laurene was there and maybe one or two of the kids I seem to remember. Steve then drove us to Pixar and introduced us to John Lasseter. We learned about the computer automation process they were using. The purpose of the visit was to expose Intel to the high end needs of graphic rendering and the idea of using multiple PCs to do it. I was a bit nervous that Steve would remember me and my role at Franklin. Either he did not remember or he did not care because he was very civil to me. That was probably the last time I actually interacted with Steve. And while that meeting was a good experience, I was no fan of Steve Jobs at the time. And later when he rejoined Apple, I felt his closed business strategy was mistake and I was a strong proponent of the Microsoft/Intel approach which was a very open architecture (as long as it was based on Intel and Microsoft).
The amazing transformation of Apple in the last ten years has been and will continue to be discussed by so many. Frankly, I still do not understand how it could have happened. The combination of insight, marketing and execution under Jobs leadership was exceptional. About three years ago, I became a convert to all things Apple. I am writing this post on a Macbook Air. I read about Steve’s death on my iPhone and later in more detail on my iPad. My email is housed at http://www.me.com. I can’t wait for iCloud.
I am left feeling sad for his death, admiration for his accomplishment and frankly, disappointment that I was no Steve Jobs. And grateful that I am still alive to love my wife, children and friends.
Steve contributions will stay with us but his greatest gift may yet to come; the book he allowed and helped Water Isaacson to write,”Steve Jobs”. Maybe, we will finally understand. We need to understand.