In 1983, as a reporter for the Financial Times, I interviewed Steve Jobs. It was one of many such meetings – but one that I have never forgotten.
This was what we would now call a “pre-brief” about the original Macintosh – a breakthrough product that in many ways changed the way we use computers.
Steve was determined to impress me. I was very determined NOT to be impressed! This guy had a reputation for turning journalists’ heads. It was called the “Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field” and many had succumbed to it.
The interview was in his office on Brandley Drive, in Cupertino (close to the Apple HQ but not in it. He had handed over the CEO role at Apple to John Sculley). By then the renegade Macintosh development group was officially sanctioned by Apple PR – but only just! The company’s primary focus was on office computers.
There was a pirate flag flying over the entrance, a Harley Davidson in the lobby, and a grand piano in the central area inside. Steve’s office was furnished in blonde wood…and was quite Spartan. Was this a PR setup or for real, I was asking myself!
I was ready to ding Steve with tough questions, but he began by asking me if I would like something to drink. I fully expected the PR lady (who came to be a good friend over the years) to fetch the drink, but no! I watched as Steve meticulously brewed, poured and served me a cup of tea (with milk, of course). And I knew that he had won this battle of wills even before the interview began.
It was a little thing that made a big impression. A very Steve thing. One of his many talents was to know exactly how to win people over. And he did it to great effect.
Steve was not always charming. I recall being in a meeting with him a few years later and witnessing him ream out a product manager after I asked an awkward question. The guy told me more than ten years later that he had never forgotten the experience.
Steve was incredibly demanding of his people, incredibly egotistic and eccentric at times, incredibly insightful, yet to use his own phrase, “insanely great”.
Another keen memory of Steve was on the day he returned to Apple – not officially, but as a “consultant”. This must have been in 1996. As I recall, it was the Friday before Christmas and Apple called a press conference. The weather and the traffic were terrible. Only Apple could pull this off!
I got there just in time to hear Gil Amelio, then Apple CEO, announce that Apple was acquiring NeXT computer – the company founded by Steve after his 1985 ouster from Apple.
Steve made a surprise appearance, bounding down the steps of the auditorium only to say that he could not take questions because he had been up all night negotiating the deal. That didn’t stop me. “What the hell are you up to?” I asked him. “”Oh Louise, I am not interested in returning to Apple. I have a family now…” he told me. Somebody snapped a photo and sent it to me. On this occasion I was not caught up in the distortion field. I felt sure that Steve was back at Apple.
Fortunately, my instincts were right. Over the past 15 years Steve Jobs has taken Apple Computer to new heights and “changed the world” (as he liked to say) with new generations of personal computers, phones and tablet computers.
The last time I saw Steve was in the lobby of Intel’s HQ in Santa Clara. He was chatting with a group of Intel people and I did not interrupt. He was skinny and gaunt and it was shocking to see how his illness had affected him. I wish that I had been bold enough to say again: “Steve, what the hell are you up to?” I am sure he would have had a great retort.