There is no shortage of Steve Jobs anecdotes coming in from former friends and colleagues of the Apple co-founder, but this one from venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson really captures the mindset of Jobs and exemplifies the strategy he used to help bring Apple back from the brink of bankruptcy to technical prominence. Moreover, it paints a portrait of a man still tied to his first love (Apple) and endlessly frustrated what had become of the company during its darker days in the late 80s and early 90s.
Jurvetson, who worked with Jobs while he was at NeXT, says that Jobs often had Apple on his mind, and though he stabbed out the striped and colorful Apple logo on his Mac workstation at NeXT, he lamented the era of mediocrity that Apple had unfortunately fallen into.
What’s more, Jobs wasn’t enamored with enterprise IT sales. For a man keen on changing the world, selling expensive machines to large companies paled in comparison to the ability to really bring about technological shifts to the masses.
Even so, Jobs’ panache as a businessman and leader were still in full effect.
Jobs was still masterful, relating stories of how MCI saved so much time and money developing their systems on NeXTSTEP. He persuaded the market research firms IDC and Dataquest that a new computer segment should be added to the pantheon of mainframe, mini, workstation, and PC. The new market category would be called the “PC/Workstation,” and lo and behold, by excluding pure PCs and pure workstations, NeXT became No. 1 in market share. Leadership fabricated out of thin air.
Comically, Jurvetson recounts how Sun Micrososystems even instituted a policy whereby no contract could be signed with Steve Jobs in the room, so fearful were they that his reality distortion field would persuade some unwitting executives into an unfavorable agreement.
But Jobs was sleepwalking through backwaters of stodgy industries. And he was agitated by Apple’s plight in the press. Jobs reflected a few years later, “I can’t tell you how many times I heard the word ‘beleaguered’ next to ‘Apple.’ It was painful. Physically painful.”
When Steve Jobs returned to Apple, he overhauled the company’s entire product line. Some of his more important decisions weren’t in the products he ultimately helped release, but in the ones he mercifully, and sometimes controversially, decided to kill off. After all, you gotta get rid of the old to make way for the new.
The following anecdote speaks volumes about Jobs’ design aesthetic and the culture that permeated through Apple upon his return and came to embody Apple under his reign as CEO.
When I invited Jobs to take some time away from NeXT to speak to a group of students, he sat in the lotus position in front of my fireplace and wowed us for three hours, as if leading a séance. But then I asked him if he would sign my Apple Extended Keyboard. He burst out: “This keyboard represents everything about Apple that I hate. It’s a battleship. Why does it have all these keys? Do you use this F1 key? No.” And with his car keys he pried it right off. “How about this F2 key?” Off they all went. “I’m changing the world, one keyboard at a time,” he concluded in a calmer voice.
And regarding Jobs’ attention to detail, Jurvetson recounts how Jobs even paid attention to the type of wood used at NeXT headquarters and layout of the outdoor sprinkler system.
Jurvetson concludes, ” He remains my archetype for the charismatic visionary leader, with his life’s song forever part of Apple.”