Steve Jobs and the technology that he brought to market had an incredible impact on my life. I was fortunate enough to be at Apple the first time Steve was there and to still be there when he came back. When I won business manager of the year for Apple in the fall of 2001, my prize was one of the original iPods that was among the first off the line.
Actually I was a little underwhelmed with the iPod since previous award winners had gotten computers. I would have much rather have received an iMac than an iPod. I still have the iPod and while I used it on many cross-country trips, it certainly has not been a product that transformed my life. That role fell to many of Apple's earlier products which allowed me to do things that I might never have attempted.
I first fell under the spell of Steve during the original Macintosh rollout in 1984. I was working for a reseller and helping to manage five Apple focused locations across the Canadian Maritimes. Seeing Steve draw a circle on a computer screen with a mouse convinced me that I wanted to work for Apple. It took several months before I got an Apple job, but on November 26, 1984, I started to work for Apple Canada.
It was a wild ride with many high points and more than a few valleys. I continue to believe that Apple survived more because of three groups than anything else. First and most important were the dedicated customers, then there were some resellers who just wouldn't give up, no matter how badly they were treated, and finally there was Apple's field sales force that acted as a buffer between much of the craziness coming out of Cupertino and the people who really wanted to buy Apple products. That to a large extent was true at Apple before Steve came back and remained so even after he took over again.
I got to see Apple management at its best and at its worst. I made calls with Gil Amelio, Avie Tevanian, Fred Anderson, and a host of others at Apple. I had a number of briefings with Steve and Tim Cook. I was on campus enough to verify some of the legends about Steve, but they are not what sticks most in my mind about Steve.
First and foremost he was a product person. People outside of his inner circle mattered little to Steve, but when he was focused on a product, he had an intensity that was a wonder to behold. I still remember a particular enterprise briefing when Apple was working on iMovie. Steve came to the briefing and all he wanted to talk about was iMovie. Not surprisingly, that didn't bother the customer, they just wanted to hear whatever Steve had to say.
Then there was a NASA CIO briefing when Steve showed up in shorts, sandals, and tee shirt. Steve still held the room in the palm of his hand.
There was, however, a dark side to Steve, I still remember Apple's largest single site for Macintoshes writing to ask Steve to come speak at their 50th anniversary celebration. They were willing to schedule the time for Steve and the anniversary celebration anytime during the year that Steve could do it. They had gone straight to Steve and not involved me, but when they didn't hear anything after a couple of months, they asked me to try to get them an answer. I took it up through our VP and after another three months of trying unsuccessfully to get a yes or no answer, I finally told the customer that Steve was unavailable. It was hard for them to swallow since the Apple campus is only a short car ride from their site.
This was the same Steve who did have the time to personally choose the chairs for our federal booth at FOSE the only time corporate ran the booth instead of the field.
I also remember the time when Steve was taking questions from the enterprise sales force. One of my system engineers asked Steve when Apple was going to do advertising for the PowerMacs that we were selling. Steve replied never and that if he did, he could get rid of us all. It was not a motivating moment. Steve didn't even get to speak to us the next year.
Steve did some great things with products, but his view of people and particularly the sales force was colored by his self-imposed isolation. After Steve came back, we were told repeatedly that those of us who remained at Apple during his exile and helped to keep the lights on until he came back to rescue the company were basically worthless.
Perhaps the most difficult thing for the field sales force was the lack of trust. Apple would often do non-disclosure briefings for customers and ask the Apple field employees to leave the room. In fact customers often knew more about what Apple was doing than we did.
There is no question that Apple leaked secrets for years, but the reality is that it was almost impossible for the leaks to have come from the field sales force, because we were never given much information.
One of the great challenges of being an Apple manager was standing up in front of a crowd after a MacWorld announcement or any product announcement for that matter and answering questions. The only information that we gleaned came from Steve's customer presentation. And to top it off, we were hearing everything for the first time exactly at the same time when the customers heard it. Any literature that came before an event was often stamped with dire warnings of immediate dismissal if the literature were opened before the event.
Still working at Apple was a great privilege and an opportunity that changed my life. Some of things that I learned to do, I never would have mastered had I not worked at Apple. The original Apple IIe, the Macintosh, the iMac, the Titanium PowerBook and OSX were products that I will never forget. I still love the Cube, and though I have never owned one, I think the latest Mac Mini is an outstanding product.
Software was always a more challenging thing for Apple. iPhoto was really the first piece of Apple software that really hooked me, but I remain convinced that Steve had nothing to do with the latest incarnation of iPhoto. It certainly isn't up to Steve's standards.
I don't think there is any question that Steve was a product genius, but I don't know whether or not the organization that he left behind really got a chance to learn from him or just fear him.
Certainly Apple has great products right now, but the company has some products that I can tell haven't had Steve's touch for a while. I still believe that the design of the current iMac's with a SD slot inches below the DVD slot never got the kind of attention from Steve that he gave the white half moon iMac.
Even a genius like Steve only has so much bandwidth, but with an Apple culture where many felt powerless because Steve always had the final veto, I am not sure genius had much of an opportunity to grow in the shadow of Steve.
So in a certain respect, Steve being gone might let Apple begin to change its culture. Apple now has to make room for other very talented people and give them true decision making power. Tim Cook is a very smart man, and some of the things he has already done at Apple are good moves. I seriously doubt that Tim sees himself as a product visionary, but I suspect he believes that he can find those people and give them enough rope to keep Apple successful.
There might never be another product person as brilliant as Steve Jobs, but it is important to remember that what he brought to us were just products even if they were elegant ones. Those beautiful products took a lot more smart people besides Steve to get to market. Maybe Bill's products weren't as beautiful, but they still remain the choice of the vast majority of the world's computer users.
Time will tell if Apple learned enough from Steve to continue its success. I remain hopeful, but most of all I hope Apple remembers one of Steve's most important lessons. If you are going to do something, be the best at it and focus your energies on only the few things where you can be the best.
We will have to wait and see if Apple can do OSX, desktops, laptops, iPads, and iPhones all to the degree of perfection that Steve would want. It is a big challenge. I will keep my fingers crossed.
I am working on a book which will offer my view of Apple from the inside. In doing the book my goal is to let people see what it was like to work for one of our era's most facinating companies. I think my book will provide some insight into how Apple survived until it found the right products to be successful.
The nearly twenty years that I spent at Apple gave me a view that few people got. No one that I know has been willing to share with the public a similar view. Many of my stories will be hard for outsiders to believe, but I can assure you that there are plenty of Apple folks who will verify what I have to say.
Working on the book has been a real trip down memory lane, but I am committed to finishing the first draft before the end of the year. I plan to give the book the same exceptional effort that I gave to my career at Apple.