Steve Jobs: The Lone Wolf for the Job

Just saw the movie, Jobs, about Apple Computer co-founder Steven Jobs.

Watching the film was a nostalgic trip through time back past the beginnings of personal computers.  I remember the days of code writing, when computers were still in the mainframe stage.  Engineers, scientists, and students were still using slide rules.  Monitors were still far in the future.   Work was done by typed-in code and printed out on a dot matrix printer.

IBM began making advances with its microprocessor, enabling faster calculations.  You could see the code you were typing on the monitor.  But you still had to type in code and you couldn’t see the finished product on the monitor.  Still, we secretaries in particular appreciated the technological product.

Then along came Jobs’ idea for the interface, which led to the creation of the Apple Lisa and, one year later, the Macintosh. He also played a role in introducing the LaserWriter, one of the first widely-available laser printers, to the market.

In 2003, Jobs was diagnosed with a pancreas neuroendocrine tumor. Though it was initially treated, he reported a hormone imbalance, underwent a liver transplant in 2009, and appeared progressively thinner as his health declined.  On medical leave for most of 2011, Jobs resigned in August that year, and was elected Chairman of the Board.  He died of respiratory arrest related to his tumor on Oct. 5, 2011.

Jobs’ birth parents met at the University of Wisconsin, where Jobs’ Syrian-born biological father, Abdulfattah “John” Jandali was a student, and later taught, and where his biological mother, Swiss-American Catholic Joanne Carole Schieble, was also a student. They were the same age because Jandali had received his PhD at an early age.  Jandali, who was teaching in Wisconsin when Jobs was born, said he had no choice but to put the baby up for adoption because his girlfriend’s family objected to their relationship.

Jobs was adopted at birth by Paul Reinhold Jobs and Clara Jobs an Armenia-American whose maiden name was Hagopian.  According to Steve Jobs’ commencement address at Stanford, Schieble wanted Jobs to be adopted only by a college-graduate couple. Schieble learned that Clara Jobs hadn’t graduated from college and Paul Jobs had only attended high school, but signed final adoption papers after they promised her that the child would definitely be encouraged and supported to attend college. Later, when asked about his “adoptive parents,” Jobs replied emphatically that Paul and Clara Jobs “were my parents.”  He stated in his authorized biography that they “were my parents 1,0000 percent.”

The Jobs family moved from San Francisco to Mountain View, Calif., when Jobs was five years old.  The parents later adopted a daughter, Patty.  Paul worked as a mechanic and a carpenter, and taught his son rudimentary electronics and how to work with his hands.  Paul showed Steve how to work on electronics in the family garage, demonstrating to his son how to take apart and rebuild electronics such as radios and televisions. As a result, he became interested in and developed a hobby of technical tinkering.

Jobs then attended Cupertino Junior High and Homestead High School in Cupertino, Calif.  At Homestead, Jobs became friends with Bill Fernandez, a neighbor who shared the same interests in electronics. Fernandez introduced Jobs to another, older computer whiz kid, Steve Wozniak, also known as “Woz.”  In 1969, Wozniak started building a little computer board with Fernandez that they named “The Cream Soda Computer”, which they showed to Jobs; he seemed really interested.  Wozniak has stated that they called it the Cream Soda Computer because he and Fernandez drank cream soda all the time whilst they worked on it and that he and Jobs had gone to the same high school, although they did not know each other there.

In late 1973, Jobs took a job as a technician at Atari, Inc.  Atari’s co-founder, Nolan Bushnell, described Jobs as “difficult but valuable,” pointing out that “he was very often the smartest guy in the room, and he would let people know that.”  Jobs travelled to India in mid-1974 to visit Neem Karoli Baba at his Kainchi Ashram with a Reed College friend (and, later, an early Apple employee), Daniel Kottke, in search of spiritual enlightenment. When they got to the Neem Karoli ashram, it was almost deserted as Neem Karoli Baba had died in September 1973. Then they made a long trek up a dry riverbed to an ashram of Hariakhan Baba. In India, they spent a lot of time on bus rides from Delhi to Uttar Pradesh and back, then up to Himalchal Pradesh and back.

Jobs began attending meetings of the Homebrew Computer Club with Wozniak in 1975.  He greatly admired Edwin H. Land, the inventor of instant photography and founder of Polaroid Corporation, and would explicitly model his own career after that of Land’s.

In 1976, Wozniak single-handedly invented the Apple I computer. After Wozniak showed it to Jobs, who suggested that they sell it, they and Ronald Wayne formed Apple Computer in the garage of Jobs’ parents’ home. Wayne stayed only a short time, leaving Jobs and Wozniak as the primary co-founders of the company. They received funding from a then-semi-retired Intel product-marketing manager and engineer Mike Markkula.

While Jobs was a persuasive and charismatic director for Apple, some of his employees from that time described him as an erratic and temperamental manager. Disappointing sales caused a deterioration in Jobs’ working relationship with Sculley, whom he had wooed away from Pepsi to serve as Apple’s CEO, which devolved into a power struggle between the two.  Jobs kept meetings running past midnight, sent out lengthy faxes, then called new meetings at 7 a.m.

Sculley learned that Jobs—who believed Sculley to be “bad for Apple” and the wrong person to lead the company—had been attempting to organize a boardroom coup, and on May 24, 1985, called a board meeting to resolve the matter.  Apple’s board of directors sided with Sculley and removed Jobs from his managerial duties as head of the Macintosh division.  With no duties and exiled from the rest of the company to an otherwise-empty building, Jobs stopped coming to work. After unsuccessfully applying to fly on the Space Shuttle as a civilian astronaut, and briefly considering starting a computer company in the Soviet Union, he resigned from Apple five months later.

Ashton Kutcher stars as a wolfish, arrogant, ruthless but brilliant Jobs.  Actor Josh Gad plays high schoolish friend Wozniak, the computer genius who had been fiddling with a computer that could be hooked up to a monitor.

Kutchner doesn’t walk so much as lope through the film with a calculating gleam in his eye,  his vision for a computer the average person – rather the average computer geek – can use.  Jobs was famous for his very bad temper and Kutchner holds nothing back, which may come as a shock to the generations of Macintosh lovers who revere Jobs for his vision and his user-friendly computer.  There are many debates over which is better:  the IBM computer and its many offshoots (Dell, Hewlett Packard, etc.), many of which, like Wang, fell by the wayside.

Jobs’ impersonal, callous manner alienated associates, friends, and employees and sadly, he didn’t seem to care.  In the film, when his girlfriend, Chris-Ann, discovers she’s pregnant, he denies paternity, even in the face of absolute evidence.  The child, Lisa, writes him when she’s six or seven to ask if she can come to see him.  He names one of his new computer systems after her, the Lisa.  But like his relationship with her (or non-relationship, in this case), the computer fails to please, particularly its business users (I used the Lisa system at a company I worked at; we were not happy with it, finding it confusing).

No matter how difficult he is, no matter how cold, oblivious, or angry he was, there was no denying that his products, the Apple and Macintosh, were wildly successful computers.  When Bill Gates steals Jobs’ idea for the interface to use in his Microsoft products, Jobs threatens him with lawsuits and ruination.  The Microsoft products were popular with business end-users.  But the IBM-style computers simply couldn’t match the Apple’s power or storage capacity.  For designers and video game fans, Apple was the last word in graphics-based computers.  Apple was faster and in the video world is everything.

Today’s IBM style computers can handle the graphics.  But their accelerator cards are enormous and the CPU towers are gigantic.  Jobs came back to Apple in 1998, after a series of CEOs practically ran the company into the ground through mismanagement, particularly in trying to market to the Microsoft-dominated corporate world.  The scenes of his maneuver to get his company back is worth the price of admission alone.

Although Jobs earned only $1 a year as CEO of Apple, Jobs held 5.426 million Apple shares worth $2.1 billion, as well as 138 million shares in Disney (which he received in exchange for Disney’s acquisition of Pixar) worth $4.4 billion. Jobs quipped that the $1 per annum he was paid by Apple was based on attending one meeting for 50 cents while the other 50 cents was based on his performance. Forbes estimated his net wealth at $8.3 billion in 2010, making him the 42nd-wealthiest American.  Did we mention that Jobs was very, very smart?  In the film, you can practically see the gears turning in Jobs’ head as he lopes along one of the hallways in his building.

In 2001, Jobs was granted stock options in the amount of 7.5 million shares of Apple with an exercise price of $18.30.  It was alleged that the options had been backdate, and that the exercise price should have been $21.10. It was further alleged that Jobs had thereby incurred taxable income of $20 million that he did not report, and that Apple overstated its earnings by that same amount. As a result, Jobs potentially faced a number of criminal charges and civil penalties. The case was the subject of active criminal and civil government investigations, though an independent internal Apple investigation completed on Dec. 29, 2006, found that Jobs was unaware of these issues and that the options granted to him were returned without being exercised in 2003.

In 1996, Apple announced that it would buy Jobs’ company, NeXT (which he formed after leaving Apple in 1985) for $427 million. The deal was finalized in late 1996, bringing Jobs back to the company he co-founded. Jobs became de facto chief after then-CEO Gil Amelio was ousted in July 1997. He was formally named interim chief executive in September.  In March 1998, to concentrate Apple’s efforts on returning to profitability, Jobs terminated a number of projects, such as Newton (a good move), Cyberdog, and OpenDoc.  In the coming months, many employees developed a fear of encountering Jobs while riding in the elevator, “afraid that they might not have a job when the doors opened.”  The reality was that Jobs’ summary executions were rare, but a handful of victims was enough to terrorize a whole company.” Jobs also changed the licensing program for Macintosh clones, making it too costly for the manufacturers to continue making machines.

The movie begins – and ends – with Jobs introducing the next innovation – the iPod – in 2001.  The iPad  would follow.

Kutchner is a scary figure as the temperamental, egotistical, perfectionist terror of Apple Computers.  In an economy where jobs (small letter “j”) are teetering on the brink, audiences might not feel comfortable with Jobs’ notion of quality and perfectionism.  So demanding is he, that at a party for one of Apple’s many successes, he walks right through the celebrating throng of employees and without shaking a hand or thanking a single one of them, tells them to get back to work and heads for his office.

Working at Apple was not for everyone, not even its co-founder Wozniak, who feels Jobs has lost his touch for the common people for whom he said he was making his computer.  Seeing the film Jobs may not be for everyone, either.  It’s said not to be doing well at the box office, which would be ironic given the popularity of his computer and his contributions as an innovator.

Creative, innovative people often are not team players. Jobs’ social skills are nil, although after Wozniak leaves, he gets back in touch with Chris-Ann and his daughter Lisa.  He has another child, a son.  Jobs may not have been a social butterfly, but he had an appreciation for innovative, creative employees.  Those who had a vision for Apple had no fear of getting on the elevator with Jobs.

Modern audiences may not feel comfortable trying to face up to Jobs’ work ethic.  His people skills may have needed some tweaking.  But he and Wozniak built one heck of a computer.

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Published in: on August 19, 2013 at 12:21 pm  Leave a Comment  

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