On meeting Steve Jobs in an elevator and Jobs’ hearing loss

Tue, Aug 30, 2011


Following Steve Jobs’ resignation as the CEO of Apple, there’s been an avalanche of interesting and poignant anecdotes about Apple’s legendary co-founder.

One in particular that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention is from long time Apple employee Michael Dhuey who worked at Apple from 1980 through 2005 and was one of two people who worked on the original iPod’s hardware.

In a recent interview with VentureBeat, Dhuey recalls that Jobs was a merciless arbiter of taste who didn’t hesitate to speak his mind.

“He was very clear about what he didn’t like,” Dhuey explained. “He was not filtered with his input. If he was in a meeting that was boring him, he would be blunt. He’d say, ‘I don’t need to see this, let’s move on.’ And we would. He didn’t suffer a fool.”

Yep, that sounds about right. And Jobs’ aura of intimidation extended far beyond the boardroom and even reached into Apple’s elevators.

Dhuey recalls that people would dread getting into an elevator with Jobs. If you got on at the 4th floor, you’d better have captivated him by the time you got off on the 1st. Jobs remembered you when you had a great story to tell. He also remembered when you didn’t.

“He would ask you what you were working on, and people started to dread that question,” chuckles Dhuey. “Everyone started preparing questions to ask Steve in case they accidentally got in the elevator with him. A good question for Steve would keep the pressure off you.”

One interesting nugget about Jobs that we hadn’t heard before is that he suffers from what we imagine is a mild case of hearing loss. Consequently, Dhuey recounts how the iPod team worked to ensure that the iPod was loud enough to satiate Jobs while also within the decibel limits of a French law which regulated such matters.

Dhuey learned that Jobs loved the Beatles and “standard pop music.” Dhuey also talks about how Jobs pushed against having noisy fans in any hardware. Perhaps this also had to do with his hearing issues.

“He didn’t like noise,” says Dhuey. “His products were all quiet and looked nice. That was his focus. He wasn’t interested in how the electronics were done. His role model was Sony, a consumer business with a consumer product. He thought their success was based on industrial design and smart pricing, and that’s what he emphasized at Apple.”

Indeed, Apple under the watchful eye of Steve Jobs out sony’d Sony when it came to innovative electronics that helped define the very category they were released under. Moreover, there’s no denying that Apple has in fact become more competitively priced with Jobs at the helm than they’ve ever been before. For example, remember that when the iPad first debuted, pundits anticipated a price point of anywhere between $800 and $1000. Apple shocked everyone when the original iPad debuted at an affordable $499.

As sure as night turns to day, Jobs has been an integral cog in Apple’s resurgence. And though a more limited role for Jobs may have a peripheral impact on the company, remember that Apple has tends of thousands of skilled employees.

Dhuey concludes, “The media likes to create this impression that Steve is the only one who does anything at Apple, but the whole company isn’t run by one man.”

And lastly, regarding Jobs’ interest in Pop music, it was almost two years ago that the former Apple CEO was spotted jamming out at a Coldplay concert.


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