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The Steve Jobs I Knew

He was hard to get to know, but he also was impossible to forget

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The other memory I have of that event is that these editors, almost to a man (there might have been one woman present), had no idea what Jobs was talking about. None used personal computers, none knew what GUI or WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) meant, nor did they really care. When I presented my story idea to the Fortune editorial board about desktop publishing, the editors essentially said they didn’t get it, and passed on the story. I was able to write about these computer companies myself in my column, Companies To Watch. The larger story, about how desktop publishing would change the world, was ignored.

The next time I remember getting together with Jobs was when he had already left Apple and started the computer company Next Inc. I was called and told to come to Palo Alto for a big announcement. No hints in advance, but I was told that the announcement was big, and I should push my editors hard to get their approval for the trip. They went for it, and when I got to California I was ushered into a room with Jobs and Ross Perot. Next Inc. was about to announce that Perot was putting big money into the company (I can’t remember how much, but it might have been $10 million or something). The thing about this meeting was Ross Perot’s personal force field was equally as strong as Steve Jobs’. You’ve probably heard that Jobs has this force field that sort of grabs you and pulls you in and, if you aren’t careful, you start believing and agreeing with everything he says. It’s amazing.

Well, Perot has the exact same thing. It became crystal clear to me how in 1978 he’d convinced a team of mercenaries to go into Iran to try and rescue two of his Electronic Data System employees from an Iranian prison. With his little eyes and his squeaky Southern voice, he was somehow Jobs’ match, and I couldn’t believe the energy in the room.

Finally, my wife Ellie and I sat next to Steve and his wife, Laurene, at our friends’ Mike and Kathy’s wedding reception in 1994. We were in the garden of Mike’s house around some circular tables, and I’m not sure how we got there, but I think we were put there on purpose, as Laurene and Kathy are best friends. Steve pretty much kept to himself, and Ellie remembers that he really only liked to talk about things he was interested in, and if you tried to talk about anything else he just turned away or got into something else with someone else. My daughter Anna came over, and I introduced her to Steve, telling her that “this is the man who invented the computer that you like to write and do MacPaint on.” Her response, as only a 7-year old could be, was “So?” And she walked away.

I am saying nothing new when I say Steve was a genius. He also was a driven, and not particularly friendly or amiable guy. I understand he was a great husband and father, but as far as I know, with everyone else it really was pure business. I’m glad I had an opportunity to at least cross paths with a person of his intellect and creativity. The world is a better place because of Steve Jobs.

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