Encounters with Steve

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The news that Steve Jobs has given his last Macworld keynote presentation has renewed speculation about the state of his health and has once again raised the issue of Apple’s succession plan (or lack thereof). It has also prompted a number of commentators to reflect on Mr. Jobs’ colorful history.

I’ve had three opportunities to see Steve Jobs over the years. Looking back, each of these now seems emblematic of a particular phase of Mr. Jobs’ career.

badge-adobe-developers-conference-w240.pngOn June 8, 1990, during his exile from Apple, Jobs (then president of NeXT) gave a keynote talk at Adobe Systems’ “Extending the PostScript Advantage” developer’s conference in San Jose, Calif. Jobs was, of course, a revered technology leader even back then. But this was before the Steve-as-unapproachable-demigod phase. As he ambled through the crowd during the break following the talk, Jobs was relatively approachable. A number of fans crowded around to ask Jobs a question or to acquire his signature as a souvenir. After a flurry of requests for autographs, Jobs said, “If you want something of mine, go buy a NeXT workstation.” It was typical of Steve in that era — hard-headed, driven, business-like.

Several years later, shortly after his return to Apple, Jobs gave a keynote presentation at the Seybold publishing systems conference in San Francisco on October 2, 1997. As his first major presentation since becoming interim CEO of Apple the previous month, the talk was debut of the new Apple under Jobs. Jobs criticized Apple’s advertising of late. “Anyone remember any of our recent ads?” he asked the audience rhetorically. “Yeah, me either” he retorted. Jobs had just rehired Chiat/Day, the agency that had produced many of the ads under Jobs’ original tenure at Apple including the famous “1984” spot.

think-different-girl-w240.jpgAt the Seybold event, Jobs unveiled Apple’s new ad campaign: “Think Different.” Projected on the huge auditorium screen, the television spot displayed its montage of geniuses and dreamers, with voice-over narration by Richard Dreyfus. “The crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes.” The ones who “push the human race forward.” When the young girl at the end of the video opens her eyes and looks out at the world, I have to confess my eyes were moist. It was Steve at his best — powerful, visionary, moving.

My final encounter with Jobs, in January, 2006, was a virtual one. I was in San Francisco the week of Macworld. The morning of the Jobs’ keynote I awoke early and trooped off to stand in line at the Moscone Center. Arriving some three hours before the doors were scheduled to open would, I thought, assure me a seat somewhere in the cavernous auditorium. I was wrong. As the line slowly advanced, streaming people into the vast hall, one of the crew suddenly shunted the line off into an overflow room starting just a few feet in front of me. Had I arrived about ten minutes earlier I would have made it into the main auditorium to see Jobs live. Instead, I watched the keynote on a projection screen in a small room. This was now the über-Steve — famous, distant, unapproachable.

These have been my encounters with Mr. Jobs thus far — covering a decade and a half between 1990 and 2006, and evidencing different aspects of his multifaceted persona. I’m reminded of the title card in the fictional newsreel that begins “Citizen Kane” which says of its equally larger-than-life subject, “All of these years he covered, many of these he was.”

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