My iXperiences with Steve Jobs

August 26, 2011

By Esther Dyson
The opinions expressed are her own.

I don’t want to praise Steve Jobs prematurely, but he has always been ahead of our industry.

Basically, the regular rules don’t apply to him. Apple was never a democracy, but he’s leaving with a 97% employee approval rating, per  People at Apple don’t mix much, but they are generally happy and respect both the people they work with and the products they are making. Steve never listens to customers, yet somehow Apple’s products almost always delight customers. And the people in his stores do too. I remember bringing my mother, a lady of a certain age, into the Palo Alto Apple store to buy a mouse a couple of years ago. They treated her as if she were the most important customer in the world, and answered her questions with the greatest of respect.

I first met Steve back in 1979 or 1980, at Ben Rosen’s Personal Computer Forum (which I later bought and hosted); for some reason, it was at the Playboy Resort in Lake Geneva that year (never again!). Regis McKenna, his PR agent then and for many years, set up the meeting. As I recall, the three of us sipped diet Cokes, served by a Playboy bunny. Even then, as a world traveler who had spent serious time in India, he had a better sense of the world outside educated, middle-class America than most techies.

At a later PC Forum, he could not attend or left early because he was being interviewed by Larry King. This was the mid-80s; the rivalry between him and almost everyone in the industry was bitter. He and Apple were considered arrogant loners; they didn’t play nicely with others. (And FWIW, yes, he had and has since been rude to me as well, when I failed to earn his approval for one reason or another.)

Nonetheless, a number of us gathered in a hotel suite to watch the show, and as he talked with Larry King, the mood in the room changed. Steve was no longer our competitor inside our market; he was one of us in a bigger, alien world, explaining our immature little industry and products to a much broader public than we could reach on our own. We cheered as he explained the effect personal computers could have on people’s lives in eloquent, simple terms, speaking for all of us.

Our small industry had lots of its own stars, but only Steve had the charm and eloquence to be a star to the outside world. And finally, years later (2009), the AllThingsDigital D conference held a session reuniting Steve and his longtime rival Bill Gates. That was a wonderful event … one I would not have missed for anything. I felt privileged to be there. But I do hope to see him do the same sometime soon with John Sculley

Photo caption: Steve Jobs, outgoing CEO of Apple, pictured during a presentation at PC Forum, January, 1985, Phoenix, Arizona. Copyright Credit: Photo by Ann Yow-Dyson


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Nice article. Small complaint: Couldn’t have happened exactly as described here, as Diet Coke wasn’t released into the market until the fall of 1982.

Posted by marcusgrimm | Report as abusive

A bit of interesting history. Can’t wait until the full biography comes out. I’d be very skeptical of any reconciliation between Jobs and Sculley, it was an acrimonious ending, whereas Gates is actually the one who put up the money to save Apple in the 90s.

Typo in your bio: “Esther have taken on challenges in private aviation and space”

Posted by Nullcorp | Report as abusive

I once spoke at an Apple Keynote and Steve was intimidating but polite once he had approved my little presentation. But several of my colleagues over the years saw his dominating side and I know he could be a brutal taskmaster and no-holds-barred negotiator. I have tremendous respect for his extremely clear and consistent marketing.

Posted by koolcat2 | Report as abusive

I recently watched a CNBC special report about BMW in Germany. One of the German car designers commented that Apple is the only other company they admire and try to emulate because of the product’s beauty, ease of use and overall style. I think that’s high praise from an automotive firm that puts a lot of effort into creating the “ultimate driving machine.”

Posted by Overandout | Report as abusive