Much is being written about Steve Jobs on this, the tenth anniversary of his death by people that knew him much better than I did. But Steve Jobs played a big role in my life or, better said, in my mind. So I thought I would share a bit of my history with him.
We first met in 1982. We sat next to each other during some talks at the PC Forum. Then, I worked at Digital Equipment Corporation and was responsible for the Professional Series, a personal computer system for knowledge workers. Apple, the first Personal Computer company to reach a billion dollars in sales, was beginning to feel the impact of the IBM Personal Computer, which was launched a year earlier. That year, the number of computers in homes was 621,000, a bit more than a half a percent of all USA homes. Digital Equipment Corporation was about four times larger than Apple. I felt that Jobs was “checking me out.” I was disappointed that he did not seem to be interested in having me join Apple, even though it was something that I would not have done at that point. I could not have imagined that just a year later, I would be president of Franklin Computer, an Apple II Clone manufacture, which became embroiled in a lawsuit with Apple.
I won’t go into the details of Apple Vs. Franklin case here. I have covered it extensively in other blog posts and my book, The Flight of a Wild Duck. Franklin had successfully defended itself in 1982, before my joining in April of 1983. Apple had appealed the decision in March of 1983. The Appellate Court ruled that the lower court had to rehear the case as they disagreed with some of the reasons the lower court denied Apple’s claims. The result was Franklin’s IPO was pulled, and its bank revoked its loan. The company was in a world of hurt. We reached out to Apple to see if we could settle. John Sculley, the CEO, seemed willing to consider licensing Franklin, but Jobs disagreed. He wanted Franklin dead, and he pretty much got his wish. By April of 1984, I was no longer at Franklin, having been effectively fired by the majority shareholder, Jim Simons, a man I greatly respect.
While I was looking for work, I consulted for my friend Steve Mayer, a co-founder of Atari. Steve was running a research lab of Warner Communications (which later merged with time to become Time Warner). Warner had financial problems and wanted to divest the labs, but they had a contract with Mayer. Steve asked me to help him determine if any of the assets of the Lab were worth while and should become part of his negotiations with Warner. We decided that some technology that could do real-time manipulation of video signals could form the basis of a new company that would provide products to the TV industry. The company would be called Digital F/X. Mayer was able to get Jobs interested in financing DF/X. Mayer knew Jobs from the time when Jobs had worked for Atari. Jobs require that the company relocate to Silicon Valley. So like many early-stage companies, DF/X worked out of a garage, although in this case. It was in an expensive home in Los Altos Hills.
In 1984, I joined Intel and was responsible for the business aspects of a joint venture with Siemens called Gemini. As part of that venture, Intel was designing a new microprocessor architecture called the P7. It was to become Intel’s main microprocessor and replace the microprocessor being used in personal computers. Intel had abandoned that idea in favor of the 386 by the time I joined Intel. However, Intel thought the P7 could be a competitive offering in the workstation market and embedded systems such as factory automation, aeronautics, and telecommunication. I was made responsible for the P7 business. As part of our marketing effort, we met with Next Computer, a high-end workstation company that Steve Jobs started in 1985 after being fired from Apple. We were unsuccessful in getting the design win.
In addition to starting Next Computer, Jobs had become the largest investor in Pixar, an animation computer. Andy Grove had become very friendly with Jobs. In 1994, Jobs asked Andy to visit Pixar with him. Andy asks to bring me along. I told Andy about my Franklin history and suggested that Jobs might be uncomfortable with me being present. Andy discussed it with Job, who had no issue. So Andy and I meet Jobs at his Palo Alto home for coffee. His wife Laurene was there, and I think one or two of Jobs’ children. Jobs then drove us in his Mercedes to Pixar, which was about an hour’s drive. We were then given a tour by the CEO, Ed Catmull. Later, John Lasseter, their leading creative talent, showed us parts of Toy Story I. Next, they took us into a lab where tens of personal computers were doing rendering. Finally, it all made sense. Jobs needed Intel to help accelerate the delivery of high-end personal computers to speed up the rendering operations. After that, Steve drove us back to Palo Alto.
Once Jobs was back at the helm of Apple in 1997, discussions were going on between Apple and Intel regarding Apple using Intel’s microprocessors in the Mac. I was aware of these discussions but did not participate. It would not be until 2006 before Apple would start using Intel processors. Jobs had been diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas in 2003, which was announced in 2004. At first, he explored alternative methods to treat his cancer. It was likely that the time spent doing this rather than more tradition medical procedures, resulted in his death, but that is impossible to know.
One of his doctors, David Agus MD, is a close friend of mine. He just finished the first draft of his first book, The End of Illness. David asked both Jobs and me to read the draft. He then asked us and others, I assume, for suggestions about the title. Unfortunately, I no longer remember the title I suggested. David went with Jobs’s advice. In the book acknowledgment section, I am listed next to Jobs, ironically.
Steve Jobs died on October 5th, 2011. In 2015, I wrote a post here called “34 years of not being Steve Jobs.” I had come to realize how much I admired Jobs. Or better said, how envious I was of him not as a person, there was much to criticize about his personal behavior.” I envied his ability to see opportunities, develop a strategy and execute that strategy almost perfectly. He did not start as a great manager, but he ended up as one. Jobs also succeed where most CEOs fail, which is in choosing a great successor.
Like so many, I can’t help wondering what would have happened if Jobs had lived.