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34 years of not Becoming Steve Jobs


Here I go again, writing about Steve Jobs.  For the last 34 years, Steve Jobs played a role in my life, although not one of which  he was particularly aware. This post is not really a review of the book “Becoming Steve Jobs”. Rather it is a discussion of my interaction/reaction with Jobs either directly or indirectly. However, I did write a mini-review of the book which you can read next before going on to the real post.

becomeing steve jobs

First the Mini Review:

I read Walter Isaacson’s book “Steve Jobs” and I was disappointed.  I felt that Walter, whom I have known for more than 30 years, just regurgitated much of what was already known about Steve. He failed to explain how he became not only the most influential leader in the world of technology, but the one of the greatest CEOs of all time.  I was trying to rationalize what Steve accomplished with the person I thought him to be.  Walter’s book did not help much in that regard.  Then I read “Inside Apple” by Adam Lashinsky which gave me some insight into the management techniques that Steve used.  So when a book came out with the title  “Becoming Steve Jobs,” I had to read it.

“Becoming Steve Jobs”  by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli, is 90% focused on Steve Jobs the business person.  There is little about his personal life.  So if you are interested in Steve Jobs the man, this is not really the book for you but it can be easily augmented with other books, articles, and movies.  However, if you are interested in Jobs’ career, and the history of Apple Computer, you should definitely read this book. It provides not only a lot of historical details but most importantly explains the influences on Jobs and the process he used to create the most successful consumer products of all time.

Why I am writing about Jobs once again

The most difficult part of writing this post for me was trying to figure out why I was writing it in the first place  and what I was really trying to say.  It required a bit of introspection. 

I never liked Steve Jobs.  In my brief personal encounters with him, I found him off-putting. The things I heard from others created an image of the kind of person I would not want to be around.  He was, in my view, self-centered, egotistical, unkind, rude and ruthless.  You have all heard these descriptions.  When I learned about how he denied being the father of his daughter, Lisa and refused to pay child support, I could only think of him not as a spoiled brat, but as someone that was sick or even evil. 

It would take more than thirty years for me to recognize how my own predacious shortcomings affected my views of Jobs. It is so hard to imagine now that the person that will go down as one of the greatest business leaders of our time was thought by many including me as a failure for so long. But to be honest and as I write about here, I think part of my focus on Jobs is that he became what I always wanted to become but never did.  He had visions and he was capable executing it.  While I won’t claim that I was as visionary as Jobs, I was the senior executive at Intel and failed to influence the company in any meaningful way.  To be fair, this is not just because Jobs was Jobs and I am me.  I have thought for some time that only a founder that still is in charge of a company can radically change the vision and strategy of a company.   Otherwise, strategy becomes a process done by a committee. 

It is clear from reading Becoming Steve Jobs, that Steve was able to grow as a leader, manager and human being.  The love that so many that worked for him had is, clearly, a reflection of that.

Overlapping Friendships

As you will read, I did not have that much personal contact with Jobs, but there are important people in my life that did. There is Larry Brilliant who, in a sense, was with Steve from the beginning to the end.  Steve Mayer, who was one of the founders of Atari and knew Jobs from the time he was a technician at that company.  Bob Cringely, a journalist that that had a lot of contact with Jobs over the years and did an extensive video interview when Jobs was NeXT which is worth watching. Andy Grove, who was CEO at Intel for most of my time there, was evidently a mentor to Jobs.  David Agus, MD, is a close friend who was one of my oncologists when I had prostate cancer was involved in Jobs treatment in the last years of his life.   Over the years, I had discussions with these people and others about Steve.  I am not going to related the stories told to me in private but only say that they all had the influence on my views.  I had particular  difficulty accepting the wonderful things that some of my friends (not all) said about Jobs the man.  It did not make sense to me then and frankly, it still does not.  I still think he was a person I would not want as a friend or a boss.

Larry Brilliant: there at the beginning and in the end.

The first chapter of the book starts with a description of the initial meeting, in 1979, of the Seva Foundation which was created by dear friend Larry Brilliant and his wife Girija.  Seva was formed to eliminate blindness for millions of people in India. The meeting was held, ironically, at a place called “The Garden of Allah.” At that time, Steve did not know that his biological father was a Syrian Muslim. At the meeting was Ram Dass, a Jewish-born Hindu Yogi, Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead. Larry, who is an MD, was close to the Grateful Dead including Jerry Garcia, whom he treated.  Dr. Venkataswamy was there as well. He was the founder of the Aravind Eye Hospital which was the primary beneficiary of the Seva Foundation. Steve and Larry had met in India five years earlier. Steve was an early backer of Seva. Larry, together wish Steward Brand would found The Well in 1985 which was the prototype for online communities.  Brand himself had a significant influence on Steve when he created and publish The Whole Earth Catalog. 

Steve participated at in the meeting but grew impatient with the slow pace, lack of focus.  He became obnoxious and Larry eventually had to kick him out of the meeting.  I would have loved to have seen that.  Larry is such a sweet man, it’s hard for me to imagine.  According to the book and probably this information came from Larry, he eventually went out to the parking lot to find Steve crying.  Larry, probably gave him a big bear hug (I have received these as well) and brought him back into the meeting.

Larry stayed close to Steve from that time on until Steve died.  Larry was there in the final days to give Steve a hug.  In the end, I am sure it was Larry that cried this time.

Jobs 1982

        The conference where I meet Steve Jobs

Meeting Steve for the first time

It was 1982 when I meet Steve for the first time.  I was 37 and he was 26 years old and working at Apple, the company he and Steve Wozniak started, but he was not the CEO.   We were at the PC Forum which was organized by Ben Rosen who later became initial investor and Chair of Compaq Computer Board.

At that time, I was working at Digital Equipment Corp which was the second largest computer company in the world.  My role as Group Manager was the development of the Professional Series Computers.  This was at a point when it was not clear at all that the desktop and eventually the notebook computer would be dominated by Microsoft and Intel.  We were worried about IBM who was the number one computer company.  Later, Don Estridge who ran the IBM PC group would tell me that they were worried about us.  Neither Don or I  was worried about the two 26-year-olds we were having dinner with, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates.  Andy Grove was also at the conference  around wearing a gold chain and sporting  a big mustache.

I knew about Apple but not much.  At that time, there was only the Apple II, which was not a real computer in my mind.  It had only a 40 character display for instance. 

A year earlier,  Apple’s CEO, Michael Scott, paid a call on Ken Olsen, the CEO of DEC (that is what we called the company back then) after he had sent a wreath to Ken. I don’t know what Ken did with it. The idea  spread that somehow Apple thought it would kill DEC.  Of course, it was not Apple that did this but the combination of forces lead by Microsoft and Intel that did.

In reality, Scott came to complain that they were not getting delivery of the computers they needed to run his companies administrative function.  The interchange did create an opportunity for Ken to learn about Apple a bit. He totally dismissed their product.  It was also around this time that a 25-year-old Bill Gates came for a meeting with Ken organized by Barry James Folsom.  Barry  was developing a desktop computer based on MS-DOS, and Intel’s 8086 microprocessor called Rainbow. Barry and I were internal competitors inside DEC.   That was the first time I met Bill Gates but not the last time.  I had a lot of interactions with Bill during my Intel years.    We met in a conference room in the Mill, a historic civil war mill where DEC had its headquarters at the time.   Ken dropped by for a while.  Bill was trying to explain the idea of compatible systems to the CEO of the largest minicomputer company. At that time, lack of compatibility was a strategy for companies like DEC.

In 1982, Digital announced not one but three personal computers the day of the PC Forum meeting in Phoenix in one of the most disastrous business strategies ever. My product, the Professional was the flagship product.  I was selected to speak at the most important conference of the emerging desktop marketplace, PC Forum. I flew directly after the announcement to Phoenix to attend.  A limo picked me up (I was not really use to that) and took me to a speakers dinner where I meet Jobs for the first time, Bill Gates again, as well as people like Don Estridge who was in charge of the IBM PC operation. Many people that played very important roles in the creation of the PC industry were in attendance. 

The next day I sat down to listen to some of the presentation and Jobs sat down next to me.  We chatted a bit.  I could see he was checking me out in some way.  I guessed that he was trying to figure out if I was someone he would want to have in his organization.  He must have concluded that he did not and lost interest in our conversation.   Even if he had asked I would not have joined Apple at that time.  I was at a much more important company, or so I thought.  I also could not have imagined working for someone so much younger than me.  Surely, it would not have worked out well for me if I had gone to work for Steve Jobs. 

Apple v. Franklin

Digital failed miserably in the “PC” market.  There were many reasons for this, which I have discussed several times in my blog and others have written about.  Within a year of meeting Steve Jobs, I would find myself being the President of Franklin Computers, selling an Apple II Clone and immeshed in a law suite with Apple that would eventually bankrupt Franklin. I could never have imagined all this when I had meet Jobs less than two years earlier.  Franklin tried to reach a reasonable settlement with Apple.  John Sculley was the CEO at the time and it appeared he was all for it, but not Steve Jobs.  While the PC industry grew because of the success of clone companies like Compaq, Dell, and HP,  Apple was about to introduce the Mac and still wanted to keep the Apple II proprietary.  We argued that we would pay a license fee and Apple would make as much profit from our sales as they made from their own sales. We said that we could create a standard.  It did not matter. Jobs just wanted us dead and he eventually accomplished that.  We had been all set for an IPO.  We were growing faster than Compaq and did $80 million in our first year of operations.  For years after that, I thought Steve Jobs had made one of the stupidest decisions ever.  Apple could have been Microsoft, which was much more valuable than Apple until recently.  What I did not realize was that Apple under Steve could never be Microsoft, just as Microsoft under Gates could never be Apple.  These two men were so very different.  It was not that they just had different strategies. They would have been personally incapable of executing the others strategy.  I could write chapters on the differences.  Bill is most well know for being the world’s richest man.  Steve Jobs is known for being Steve Jobs.

Apple destroyed Franklin. My family and I were collateral damage.  I no longer had a job.  Jim Simons, now one of the most successful hedge fund managers and the key investor in Franklin, took me out to dinner and suggested I might be happier somewhere else.  He was right.  Although Franklin never lost the lawsuit with Apple, the world thought we did.  Our IPO was canceled and our bank called their loan.  The company was still floating, but there was a big leak and eventually Franklin went bankrupt and turned itself into an electric bible company, amongst other things.

Apple, Steve Mayer, and Digital F/X

After I left Franklin in April 1984, I found myself without a job having moved my family from the Boston area where we lived while I worked at Digital, to the Philadelphia area. My close friend, Steve Mayer was living in NYC.  Steve was the co-founder of Cyan Research which was purchased by Atari in 1975, early after that company was founded by Nolan Bushnell. Mayer played a principle role in the development of Atari’s products and should be considered a co- founder.  Atari was sold to Time Warner towards the end of 1976 and Mayer eventually moved to New York and joined Time Warner as President of Warner Labs, a central research lab for all the Time Warner Divisions.  The day that I resigned from Franklin, Mayer asked me to become his advisor and help him figure out how to start a company by spinning out one or more of the technologies that he was developing in the Lab. 

We settled on some video post production technology with the idea that we could develop add-on products to the PC that would allow them to be used by professionals and eventually by consumers to do video editing. The company would be called Digital F/X.  We figured out the best way to get Time Warner to agree to the spin out, but we needed financing.  Mayer contacted Jobs.

Jobs agreed to have Apple fund Digital F/X but did so with a loan.  He required that the company move to Silicon Valley.  Soon after, Steve and his wife moved back to the bay area. Jobs lost interest after a while.  By this time, I was looking for a job in earnest.  That happened a few months later when I accepted a position at Intel as Director of Business Development and later was made a Corporate Vice President.  By the way, in 1988 Intel, along with Kleiner Perkins, invested in Digital F/X.  By then there was no longer a connection with Apple.

Jobs was forced out of Apple by John Sculley in 1985 and went to start NeXT Computer.  He tried to hire Mayer to be one of the founding ten employees, but Mayer withstood the seduction (Jobs would take him on long walks and try to inspire him with his vision for the company).  In 1986, Jobs also acquired the graphic division of Lucasfilms which was then renamed Pixar.  It would have been hard to realize at the time, but this was probably the most important decision that Jobs ever made professionally.  Not only did it make him a very rich man but it was there that he learned the management skills that would be the foundation for his future success  back at Apple.

At that time, I was managing amongst other things, the business aspect of a chip that Intel thought at the time would replace the X86 architecture.  It was called the i960.  At this point in time there was a big debate going on in the computer industry about the merits of RISC (reduced instructions set computers) like the Spark from Sun Computer, and CISC (complex instruction set computers) of which the X86 architecture (think Pentium) was a member.  The i960 was RISC, but it was also Object Oriented.  It was actually a 33 bit computer. Forgive me for not going on to explain this.  Bud Tribble and a few other from NeXT Computer came to meet with the i960 team to evaluate our microprocessor for their company.  I think Andy Grove asked me to meet with them.  Frankly, I could have cared less. I thought that Jobs was a loser and did not want to be involved in anything he was doing.  While there was some serious interest on their part in using our chip, we could not meet their schedule. NeXT went with the Motorola processor that Apple was using which turned out to be lucky for them.

Coffee at Chez Jobs and a visit to Pixar

One day in 1994, Andy Grove asked my boss, Les Vadasz and I to join him for a visit to Pixar, hosted by Steve Jobs. We all met at Jobs house in Palo Alto, the town where I also lived.  We had coffee in the kitchen. Laurene, Steve’s wife was also there. It was kind of surreal for me to be sitting in Jobs kitchen, the very man that brought down Franklin Computer and along with it, my ambitions.  I had warned Andy that Jobs might not be happy to see me because of the lawsuit and asked that he be told in advance.  Not sure that Andy did that, but Jobs was very gracious to me.  I was brought along because, by that time, I was thought by Intel to be user-friendly when it came to media people. Jobs

Jobs drove us to the east bay in his Mercedes.  I don’t really remember much of about the conversation coming or going.  Jobs wanted to get us to understand how much computing power Pixar needed to render animation.  We met Ed Catmull, the CEO and John Lassiter, the creative director. John showed us the storyboards for Toy Story.  They then showed us the process of rendering animation. It was easy to understand how processing intensive this was.  John Lassiter was a graduate of the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) where I was a Trustee. It was a good meeting, although I don’t think anything really came out of it.  I did not realize at that time that Andy and Jobs were close and Jobs considered Andy a mentor.   Strangely, John Lassiter lives just five minutes from my Sonoma home.  I don’t socialize with him, but I do run into him from time to time.

My only visit to the Apple Campus

Around this time, Steve Mayer invited me to visit Apple.  He was advising them in a number of areas and wanted me to share my thoughts with them.  I would guess this might have been 1999.  Jobs was not at the meeting. Sina Tamadon, the head of Strategy, was the highest level person in attendance.   My mission was to convince them that there was an opportunity for Apple in the Consumer Electronics Market.  They did not appear very interested and there were no follow-up discussions.

Conversion to the Mac

I met my wife in 2000.  She was a graphic artist and had used a Mac since 1984.  When we started living together, I told her she would need to get a PC since I could not provide Technical Support on a Mac.  She said that a Mac did not need technical support and maybe what I needed was a PC girlfriend. A few years later I made the change and became Microsoft free.  Now I am totally in the Apple Eco System with several Macs, an iPad, iPhone, Apple TV and soon the Apple Watch. 

Cancer

I was shocked as many to learn that Steve Jobs had cancer.  Having personally had cancer twice (Prostate and Melanoma) I was aware of how difficult the process of dealing with it from detection to treatment and recovery would be.  I was amazed to see how he continued to work so hard and how he accomplished so much.  After I was diagnosed with cancer, I decided I didn’t want to spend whatever days I might have left working. Steve obviously decided to take the opposite course.

Many of the doctors that were involved in his treatment are people I know and in one case, know well.  I did not pry, nor did they volunteer information, but I could sense that things would not end well.

Thinking back 34 years later

I often think back to that dinner in 1982 with Steve Jobs, Bill Gates (both 26) and me (at 37) and our three different approaches to the revolution that would be desktop computing. I was confident about my strategy and fully expected that Digital would dominate the desktop.  It was at this same meeting that Ben Rosen introduced me to a start up, Compaq Computer, the company that would eventually acquire Digital.

I was still stuck with the mini computer model of vertical integration and proprietary hardware and software, but I was way ahead of Steve and Bill on a number of concepts.  The first was the use of bitmap graphics.  At that time, most computers used hardware character generators.  The Pro series  however used regular memory to store bits that corresponded to the pixels on the screen, and could be modified easily allowing for different fonts and sizes.  This had already been done by the folks at Xerox Parc which is where  Jobs got the idea and then used it in the ill-fated Lisa computer and the successful Macintosh.  By the way, I may have been the first to have done this in 1970 but that is another story.  The Pro series also had built in ethernet and was designed for networking. 

Microsoft and Intel had a new model of the computer industry, a horizontal model where different companies would compete with others for various layers (microprocessors, storage, software etc).   Apple’s vision would become very much aligned with the vertical  proprietary strategy that I was advocating but would take more than 25 years for that to pay off.  The difference between Apple and Digital was not in the architecture.  It was in the market.  We were targeting  business and they were targeting individuals and they knew how to market.  I once had a major argument with Ken Olsen about this.   I said, that we would only succeed if  we had a good product and great marketing.  He said, I was wrong and that we had to have a great product with good marketing.  We went back and forth and then he finally raised his voice and said “You don’t understand! We are not capable of having great marketing”.  He was so right.

Andy Grove, the Mentor

Evidently, Steve Jobs thought of Andy Grove, the CEO of Intel, as a mentor.  I was not aware of that.  During my tenure at Intel (1984-1999), Intel had very few dealings with Apple.  Apple was using microprocessors from Motorola (68000).  At one time in the in the late 90s, Apple indicated an interest in using Intel Microprocessors.  Intel put together a team to port over the Macintosh OS to the x86 processors and demonstrated that to Apple, but Apple decided not to change.  Mostly likely, Jobs was just using Intel to get a better price at Motorola.  In 2005, Apple did move to Intel which was by that time pretty much the only game in town. 

Frankly, Intel would be better off today if instead of Andy being a mentor to Steve, Steve had been a mentor to Andy.  Intel totally missed the movement to mobile devices for instance.    

Just one more thing

When my wife and I married, we had two couples at our side.  One was Larry and Girija Brilliant and the other was Steve Lavine and his wife Janet Sternberg.  Steve is the President of CalArts where John Lassiter got his education.  In the room, was one of the doctors that would treat Steve near the end of his life, David Agus.  Below you will find the  acknowledgment from his very successful book, The End of Illness.

I want to especially thank Marc Benioff, Amy DuRoss, Melissa Floren, Steve Jobs, Avram Miller, Amy Povich, Maury Povich, Dov Seidman, Greg Simon, Bonnie Solow, Elle Stephens, and David N. Weissman. 

Now I am done

So I am still trying to figure out how this man I hardly knew and who probably would not have known who I was, played this shadowy role in my life.  In closing this long post, I have to say that I still do not fully understand my fixation with Jobs.  Is it because he is the person I wanted to become but did not?  I hope there is more to it than that.

If you got this far, I have to thank you for indulging me in the cathartic post.

8 thoughts on “34 years of not Becoming Steve Jobs

  1. Thanks for the insisght………….it’s always fascinating to be able to read the history of computing with 20/20 hindsight.

    Like

  2. “I never liked Steve Jobs. In my brief personal encounters with him, I found him off-putting. The things I heard from others created an image of the kind of person I would not want to be around. He was, in my view, self-centered, egotistical, unkind, rude and ruthless.”

    — Avram Miller

    “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

    — George Bernard Shaw

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Albert Einstein? Indeed! I would add to that list Richard Feynman. Both gentlemen were known for being brilliant yet approachable. Someone who you would be very happy to know and work with. But what is interesting, while Einstein and Feynman were both very focused on their passion, and both in their way changed the world, that was not their goal. Their goal was to understand nature. Steve Jobs is famously quoted about wanting to make “a dent in the universe”. Men like Einstein and Feynman wanted to understand the universe.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. First of all, from one writer to the next – Avram, this is one fascinating read. Honesty is one prerequisite of good art, maybe of all good creation in general, and in this sense this text is a small work of art. It should be published in wider circulation for others to enjoy and comment on.

    What little I have to add to the above, and Avram feel free to do away with this comment if you think I am barging into a place I shouldn’t be loitering in, is this: the “brilliant bastard” / “good natured average” dichotomy, in my experience as an artist, entrepreneur, activist, and son – is a romantic invention and unhelpful construction. My dad, Benny Gaon, who’s still considered one of the most successful businessmen in the history of 67 year old Israel (we wrote 2 management books together, which was a joy and privilege) was a warm, wise, peoplesperson with the people he loved, even though he knew how to be very harsh to people who betrayed his trust.

    He died in 2008, of lung cancer, and the traffic jams due to people driving to his funeral (rich, poor, of all shapes and sizes, busloads of admirers) practically closed down traffic from the South of the country to it’s North for 4.5 hours. It was astounding. I could also give examples here of great artists who were and are (1) geniuses and (2) have / had hearts the sizes of small Islands. I could post a list here of brilliant, astoundingly compassionate doctors I came to know, with Nobels in their grasp – and even longer list of average bastards.

    Finally, re Jobs – I think Avram, that one reason we are all fascinated by this guy, is because we identify (hopefully rightly) an internal struggle that he had to struggle with, which all of us have known to some extent (I know I have) between “cool” harshness and “uncool” generosity. Illness and mortality tend to remind us that generosity and kindness, when push comes to shove, is what remains, what makes a difference, what all good creation is made of. Jobs’ Stanford Commencement Address, during which he was (a) ill and (b) kind has been watched to this date 40 million times on YouTube (the launch of the Mac was watched 2.1 million times), the reason being, at least partially, that people were relieved to learn that genius and kindness – need not cancel each other out. Jobs may have been a really good businessman before he became generous. He became Steve Jobs, to the world, when he did.

    Liked by 1 person

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