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images (3)Childhood

Steve was quite a turbulent child. He really didn’t care about school for some time — until he reached the 4th grade, and had Imogene “Teddy” Hill as a teacher.

She was one of the saints of my life. She taught an advanced fourth grade class, and it took her about a month to get hip to my situation. She bribed me into learning.

She did bribe him, with candy and $5 bills from her own money. He quickly became hooked — so much so that he skipped the 5th grade and went straight to middle school, namely Crittenden Middle School. It was in a poor area. Most kids did not work much there, they were rather fond of bullying other kids, such as the young Steve. One day he came home and declared that if he wasn’t transferred to another school, he would stop going to school altogether. He was 11. Paul and Clara complied, and the Jobses moved to the cozier city of Los Altos, so that Steve could go to Cupertino Junior High. This proved to be decisive for Steve’s future.

These Heathkits would come with these detailed manuals about how to put this thing together and all the parts would be laid out in a certain way and color coded. You’d actually build this thing yourself. I would say that this gave one several things. It gave one a understanding of what was inside a finished product and how it worked because it would include a theory of operation but maybe even more importantly it gave one the sense that one could build the things that one saw around oneself in the universe. These things were not mysteries anymore. I mean you looked at a television set you would think that “I haven’t built one of those but I could. There’s one of those in the Heathkit catalog and I’ve built two other Heathkits so I could build that.” Things became much more clear that they were the results of human creation not these magical things that just appeared in one’s environment that one had no knowledge of their interiors.

It gave a tremendous level of self-confidence, that through exploration and learning one could understand seemingly very complex things in one’s environment. My childhood was very fortunate in that way.

Computerworld/Smithsonian Interview, 20 Apr 1995


Typically, it was really hard for me to explain to people the kind of design stuff I worked on, but Steve got it right away. And I liked him. He was kind of skinny and wiry and full of energy. […] Steve and I got close right away, even though he was still in high school […]. We talked electronics, we talked about music we liked, and we traded stories about pranks we’d pulled.

Steve Wozniak in iWoz


After six months, I couldn’t see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.

It wasn’t all romantic. I didn’t have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends’ rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it.

Stanford Commencement Address, 12 Jun 2005


While he was at Atari, Steve asked his boss to fund a trip to India for him. Atari did pay his trip up to Germany, where he had to work on fixing some Atari machines. Then Steve was joined by his hippie friend from Reed, Dan Kottke, and they went to India in search for enlightenment. They came back pretty disappointed, especially after they met a famous guru, Kairolie Baba, who, unlike what they expected, was a con man.

We weren’t going to find a place where we could go for a month to be enlightened. It was one of the first times that I started to realize that maybe Thomas Edison did a lot more to improve the world than Karl Marx and Neem Kairolie Baba put together.

quoted in Michael Moritz’s The Little Kingdom

When Steve came back, he resumed his job at Atari. One of his pastimes back then included primal scream therapy sessions at the Los Altos Zen Center, where he befriended Governor Jerry Brown and his guru Kobun Chino. He also spent several weeks with his girlfriend Chris-Ann and Dan Kottke in a hippie commune in Oregon, the All-One Farm. Here they would cultivate apples and for some time, Steve would eat only that — when he wasn’t fasting, that is.

Steve had a good argument. We were in his car and he said — and I can remember him saying this like it was yesterday: “Well, even if we lose money, we’ll have a company. For once in our lives, we’ll have a company.” That convinced me. And I was excited to think about us like that. To be two best friends starting a company.

Steve Wozniak in iWoz

In many ways, the Apple II was both the start and the symbol of the personal computer revolution of the early 1980s. Although there were many competing personal computers on the market — such as the Commodore PET or Radio Shack’s TRS-80 — the Apple II clearly set itself apart very early on, and soon embodied the personal computer in the public consciousness. It was all over the media, and its sales skyrocketed throughout 1978, 1979 and 1980.

It was not only about the Apple II’s appealing design, its integrated keyboard, or its ability to plug into any TV to display color graphics or play sounds. Its built-in BASIC interpreter was also critical to its success, as it made the writing of compatible software very easy. Woz used it himself to write the first program to ever run on the machine, a game called Breakout. The eight expansion slots in Apple II made a difference, too. Woz decided to implement them against Steve Jobs’ will, and this proved a wise move, as they allowed for all kinds of new features and software to be added to the machine. One of those features was Disk II, a floppy disk drive Apple started shipping in early 1978. It made the sharing and installing of new software very easy — soon the supply of Apple II software was thriving.

images (4)But probably the most important push toward the Apple II’s success was not from Apple. It was a piece of software called VisiCalc — the first spreadsheet ever brought to market. VisiCalc worked only on the Apple II, and it was a revolution in itself. Millions of accountants, small businesses, or even private individuals that cared about their money, could now do in minutes calculations that would have taken them weeks to perform by hand. They rushed out to computer stores and bought Apple IIs en masse, making Apple one of the most profitable companies of its day. Only four years after it was started in a garage, the company was well on its way to fulfill Mike Markkula’s vision of belonging to the Fortune 500 elite of corporate America.

The Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, often dubbed Xerox PARC, was started in the early 1970s by the Xerox corporation. Based on the East Coast, the manufacturer of copy machines felt that its core business was threatened by the emerging computer revolution, with its promise of a paperless office. In a very smart move, they set up a research center in Stanford Research Park, and hired talented computer scientists, many from the leading university, to invent the office of tomorrow.

In 1979, when Steve Jobs toured PARC, the researchers had already pioneered several technologies that would revolutionize computing forever. They had a network of computer working together using Ethernet. They had developed object-oriented programming, a new way to write software much more effectively. They were working on the laser printer. But most of all, they had built the world’s first computer to use a graphical user interface (GUI), the Alto. The Xerox Alto had a strange device called a mouse, that you could use to move a cursor around the screen. You could open files and folders, copy and paste content inside them. It was simply a breakthrough.

The Xerox PARC did not keep its technology hidden from outsiders. Informed circles knew about the center’s advances, especially at Stanford and in the Valley as a whole. Everybody pretty much sensed that this technology would have a huge impact on the industry — everybody but Xerox themselves. The conservative management on the East Coast never grasped the extent of what their researchers in California had come up with. They simply dismissed it as futile.


After Lisa came out in January 1983, the whole Lisa group joined Steve and his team to get Macintosh ready for market. The team quickly grew into several dozens of people — the renegade days seemed long gone.

Everything didn’t go smoothly: all the teams were late, and the management eventually had to decide on a date for the introduction of the product. They picked Apple’s 1984 shareholders meeting, on January 24. There was also tremendous pressure to make software available to the new platform for the launch. Several software developers signed up, including market leader Lotus and Bill Gates’ Microsoft, whose main business at the time was the IBM PC’s operating system, DOS. But one of the hottest issues was Steve Jobs’ antagonizing attitude. He would keep on berating the other divisions: he famously called the Apple II engineers (who were the only ones bringing cash in) “the dull and boring product division.” After Lisa was launched, he also said in front of the whole development team, including people who were about to get fired: “I only see B and C players here. All the A players are with me on the Mac team.”

As far as marketing was concerned, Steve went to Chiat/Day with Mike Murray, and they worked together with Lee Clow on a breakthrough Macintosh commercial, 1984. They hired a young director, Ridley Scott, to shoot an ad that depicted Apple’s computer as a blond, athletic Californian girl throwing a hammer at IBM-Big Brother’s face on a huge screen. The ad concluded that 1984 wouldn’t be like George Orwell’s “1984.”The ad was so audacious it was almost canceled, but in the end the board went for it. It is now widely acknowledged as one of the best TV commercials ever created. It was aired during Super Bowl XVIII, on January 22 1984, and started an enormous media hype around Macintosh’s introduction two days later.

During those four months, from May to September 1985, Steve was still chairman of the board — he was not fired from Apple, contrary to popular belief. But he had a lot of times on his hands, and tried hard to find what he was going to do next.

He traveled to Europe, advocating Macintosh to French universities, biking around Tuscany, and thinking of settling in the south of France. He went to the Soviet Union to preach the benefits of personal computing and asked NASA if he could ride the Space Shuttle. He even thought of running for the office of governor of California, seeking advice from his friend Jerry Brown. But none of these endeavors could really absorb his energy and his continuing passion for computing.

He also looked for places to invest in. One of his very good friends from Xerox PARC, computer pioneer Alan Kay, told him about an iconoclastic group of computer graphics developers north of the Bay Area, whose parent company, Lucasfilms’ Industrial Light & Magic, was trying to get rid of.

The founding fathers of Pixar were researchers Ed Catmull and Alvy Ray Smith, who, as early as the 1970s, shared a dream of making animated movies with computers. Yet they knew it would take at least a decade before their vision could materialize, given the necessary computing power to handle such complex operations. So they just got together and waited for the technology to evolve.

Catmull and Smith slowly put together a core team of computer graphic pioneers that also believed in computer-animated films. Among the first members were computer scientists Ralph Guggenheim and Bill Reeves. John Lasseter, a brilliant animator from Disney, joined them in 1984. The group moved from one benefactor to the next since its creation; in 1985, they belonged to George Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic (ILM).

Yet the Star Wars filmmaker was trying to sell the division. He needed money after his divorce, and, more importantly, he did not share the team’s vision. He just wanted to use 3-D animation for special effects in movies.

In addition, at the time, Pixar was working on a graphical workstation, a very powerful computer dedicated only to processing visual data. They had also started developing their own 3-D computer language, RenderMan. The department was clearly evolving outside of Lucasfilm’s realm, and that’s why they were looking for a new patron.


images (5)here were crucial evolutions in Steve’s personal life as well. First, after years of research, he had finally found his biological family. His biological mother Joanne was still alive, and she had actually married his father a couple of years after Steve was born. They had given birth to a daughter, Steve’s biological sister, called Mona. Mona Simpson was a young yet accomplished writer who had just published a novel that earned her several literary prizes, Anywhere But Here. Steve was thrilled his sister was an artist: there was indeed art in his genes! He filled a bookshelf at NeXT with free copies of Mona’s book.

He also started to fully accept his 9-year-old daughter Lisa as family. She increasingly spent time at his home in Woodside, and he even took her to NeXT’s offices from time to time. He started to get deeply involved in her education.

Finally, he became more stable in his relationships and was thinking of marrying his girlfriend Tina Redse.

This whole period of Steve’s life is well documented in A Regular Guy, a novel by Mona Simpson which barely disguises Steve Jobs and Lisa as its main characters.


The years of 1991 to 1994 were the worst in Steve’s career. Paradoxically, they were some of the happiest years in his private life. In 1990, at age 35, after his girlfriend Tina Redse had turned down his proposal, he started dating a young Stanford MBA student called Laurene Powell. Laurene was a leggy blonde in the mold of Steve’s taste in women, but she was also very smart and independent — in addition to being a militant vegan. According to Steve, it was love at first sight: he canceled a business meeting to have lunch with her, and the following year, on March 18 1991, they got married in Yosemite. Steve only brought along a couple of guests in the lodge’s chapel, and the no-frills ceremony was conducted by his long-time Zen guru Kobun Chino. A few months later, Laurene gave birth to Steve’s second child, a baby boy named Reed Paul, after Steve’s alma mater (Reed College) and his father (Paul Jobs).

Apple in 1996

To understand how Steve Jobs came back to the company he founded, it is necessary to have a look at Apple’s situation in the mid-1990s.

As we said before, Apple made healthy profits from 1986 to 1995, mainly thanks to its monopoly on both the GUI and the desktop publishing revolution. Everyone who wanted a user-friendly computer bought a Macintosh for approximately $2,000, half of which were pure profits to Cupertino.

But, starting in 1992, Apple felt threatened by an emerging super-power in the computer business: Microsoft. So far Microsoft was mostly known for providing MS-DOS to the IBM PC and its clones, which accounted for something like 80% of the PC market — the remaining 20% being Apple. But the Redmond-based company was also an application developer, and it had actually worked on the Macintosh with Steve Jobs in the early 1980s to provide Mac software such as Multiplan.

When Bill Gates saw the GUI of the Macintosh in 1982, he also understood that this was the way of the future, a future which threatened his DOS franchise. So he started working on a Microsoft GUI that could be added on top of MS-DOS: Windows.

For years, Windows was so terrible that nobody in the industry took it seriously. But Apple started feeling threatened when it became better and more Mac-like, especially after the release of Windows 3.0 in 1990. As early as 1988, Apple sued Microsoft for stealing “the look and feel” of its Mac operating system. The case ended at the Supreme Court in 1994, and Apple lost (one of the main arguments was it had itself stolen the GUI from Xerox some fifteen years earlier).

The following year, in 1995, Microsoft launched Windows 95, which was the most successful GUI release in the history of personal computing. Almost every PC user upgraded and started using GUI en masse, while Apple lost its monopoly. Macintosh sales started going down dramatically, not only because of the Wintel domination, but also because of the bad move to license the Mac OS to Mac clone makers — manufacturers of cheaper computers that could use Apple’s system. The company was losing market share, and getting rid of its successive CEOs didn’t seem to help. After John Sculley left in 1993, he was replaced by Michael Spindler for two years, and then by Gil Amelio starting in February 1996. The company was going downhill, failing to deliver new products on time and lagging behind in software development.

It was one year later that Steve’s return to Apple was set into motion. In November 1996, the company was looking for a new operating system for its future Macs. The Mac OS was bloated with old technologies, slow, and unadapted to modern computers. Apple had been working for some time on an internal project called Copland, yet it was constantly being delayed and it soon became obvious it would not fit the bill. So CEO Gil Amelio started shopping around for a modern OS to buy, and after a while, a consensus started to emerge on Jean-Louis Gassée’s BeOS. Gassée was the former Apple France executive who was supposed to replace Steve Jobs as the head of the Macintosh division in 1985. He had since left Apple and started his own company, Be Inc., whose software had everything Apple needed, including the good taste of running natively on Apple’s products.

However some NeXT employees called up Apple and told them about their own system, the very advanced NeXTSTEP, that had always been regarded as one of the best software platforms on the planet. Steve Jobs learned about it later and he was stunned. But in December 1996, he showed up at Apple for the first time in eleven years and not only convinced the board of using his technology, but also to buy his company. Apple agreed to pay more than $400 million for NeXT, whereas Be was only asking for $200 million.

Although Mac OS X, the digital hub strategy, the breakthrough hardware and the retail stores all played a role in Apple’s renaissance, they were not the essential key that made it all come together. As you probably know, that key was a little shiny white device the size of a pack of cigarettes called the iPod.


The iPod was of course an integral part of Apple’s vision of the digital lifestyle. When they looked at the big picture, they realized that, unlike the digital camera and camcorder markets, the digital music player market did not yet offer compelling products to work with your Mac. That’s how the idea of making such a device in-house arose, in early 2001, after iTunes was introduced and the company started focusing on the digital music revolution.

Just like iTunes, Steve Jobs wanted to get a product out to market quickly, to catch up with the rest of the industry. That’s why he turned to an outside engineer, PortalPlayer founder Tony Fadell, who had notoriously tried to sell his prototype of a little MP3 player to several consumer electronics company. Fadell joined Apple in February 2001, and the iPod shipped only nine months later, in late October 2001, just in time for the holiday season.

The original iPod distinguished itself from its competition for several reasons. Apart from its gorgeous look, its click wheel and user interface made browsing through one’s music collection very easy and fast; it had a hard drive which could store up to 5GB, or “a thousand songs in your pocket”, which was Apple’s tag-line for the new product; it connected to your Mac via FireWire, which was 30 times faster than your typical USB MP3 player; and it synced with iTunes seamlessly: you just had to plug it in, and the software took care of the rest.

There was simply no other MP3 player that matched any one of those breakthrough features. iPod quickly became a very, very hot product for music lovers… and digital pirates. It was quickly acknowledged as “the walkman of the digital age”, as even Windows users either hacked it or moved to the Mac just so that they could use it.

Apple was confused about how to react to this unexpected success. They could decide to continue limiting iPod to Macs, so that it would entice PC users to switch; or they could make it Windows-compatible, which would broaden their target and show users unfamiliar with Apple how good their products could get. At Macworld New York in July 2002, Steve announced they had opted for the second solution.

In early 2004, Steve faced Pixar’s shareholders at the company’s earnings conference call. It was the first time since the company’s IPO that its future was not tied to its contract with Disney. However, Steve was pretty confident, especially after the success of the studios’ latest release, Finding Nemo, which eventually became the highest-grossing animated movie in history and an Academy Award winner.

Steve mentioned an email that Michael Eisner sent to Disney’s board of directors before Finding Nemo was released, in which he said the new movie was “nowhere near as good as their previous movies.” “As you know, things turned out a little different”, Steve joked. Then he discussed Pixar’s concern about Disney’s right to make sequels to Pixar’s first movies:

We feel sick about Disney doing sequels, because if you look at the quality of their sequels, like The Lion King 1/2 and their Peter Pan sequels and stuff, it’s pretty embarrassing.

He ended the conference by reassuring the shareholders, saying he had had calls from four other major studios who seemed more than willing to distribute Pixar’s films in the future. The relationship with Disney was dead and buried.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn’t even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor’s code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you’d have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I’m fine now.

Steve Jobs’ Stanford Commencement Speech, 12 Jun 2005

So here’s where we are today. Apple, on the verge of bankruptcy a decade ago, is now one of the most powerful and influential high-tech company in the world. It is the most innovative brand in the computer industry, a leader in the music and phone businesses, and a likely consumer electronics powerhouse for decades to come. As for Pixar, it is the single most successful movie studio in the history of Hollywood, having yet to release a dud after more than twenty years of existence. It has defined the future of animation and is now at the center of this industry after it s merger with Disney. The founder of both these companies, Steve Jobs is now routinely voted one of the world’s most important business leaders, after having been called a one-time fluke for years.

Now that we have followed together the most important events in Steve’s life — especially his career of course — it is time to step back and try and look at the big picture.

I am going to get personal here: it is hard for me to put into words how much admiration and huge respect I have for Steve Jobs, and how much inspiration I draw from him. Let’s face it, business history has seen many another genius entrepreneur, inspirational leader, or industry visionary. But among them, who has had as big an impact as Steve Jobs on the rest of humanity? Who has faced greater glory and worse shames, all in one life? Here we are talking about a man who has dedicated his life to giving the power of technology to the masses. He has democratized computers with the Apple II. He has made them human and even friendly with Macintosh. He has almost single-handedly made possible the desktop publishing revolution. Here is a man whose company, Apple, is so innovative its products inspire the whole high-tech world, whose corporate culture is so powerful, it has millions of fans worldwide whose following is akin to that of a cult. Here is a man who has changed the way we all listen to music with iPod, who has shaken the music business with iTunes and the phone business with iPhone. Here is a man without whom 3D animation might have never taken off, or certainly would not have taken off the way it did thanks to Pixar. Here is a man who has made millions of lives so much easier by making technology seamless, intuitive, exciting and beautiful, instead of complicated, arcane, dull and ugly.

The question remains open to me: which business figure can claim so many achievements? Whose influence has been greater? That’s why I struggled for so long to find appropriate words to summarize the essence of Steve Jobs, a genius, but also a man, an icon with flaws, full of paradoxes, a visionary who has sometimes proven dead wrong. I thought hard — until I realized Steve himself had found these words. So let me conclude with the voice from Apple’s Think Different commercial:

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.


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