Former colleagues share memories of Steve Jobs

Event to mark the late Apple co-founder's legacy includes anecdotes from former Apple and Pixar employees.

Former colleagues discuss Steve Jobs' early days. Josh Lowensohn/CNET

SAN JOSE, Calif.--The first time Steve Jobs went to go buy a suit, it took an entire day to get everything just right.

"Before the Mac introduction, I took him to San Francisco to buy his first suit; he spent the entire day matching colors," recalled Regis McKenna, who was Jobs' marketing mentor during Apple's formative years. "He had to have the right tie, the right suit, the right pants, the right socks, and the right shoes...this was the period before the black shirt and the Chinese uniform."

The anecdote was one of many shared by friends and former colleagues of the late Apple co-founder tonight as part of an event to mark Jobs' legacy put on by the Churchill Club at San Jose's Tech Museum. Besides McKenna, that group included original Mac team members Bill Atkinson and Andy Hertzfeld, former Apple VP of advanced technology Larry Tesler, and Pixar's former investor relations and public relations chief, Deborah Stapleton.

Also there was Jean-Louis Gassée, who spent 10 years at Apple and later ended up nearly selling his own software company to Apple until it picked Jobs' NeXT instead. As Gassée offered during the reminiscing, he's now happy things turned out the way they did.

"Thank god that didn't happen, because I hated Apple's management," Gassée said. "I couldn't picture myself in there, so of course when we lost the deal it stung as it should. But then we went public and had our own time in the sun. I even got to sell it so I could put fresh tires on my wheelchair."

What could have been was a frequent topic of an evening that was largely a tribute to the tech pioneer who passed away last month. That included the notion of Jobs having a political career, something that was floated by Jobs to McKenna in casual conversation where he was asking if he could become president of the U.S. without being affiliated with a political party. "I could fix these problems," he told McKenna, who said that Jobs idealized world problems as being something he'd be able to solve.

Later on in the evening, Gassée laid out his fondness for Jobs' presentation style. He recounted one of his favorite Jobs moments as Apple's 1983 sales conference in Hawaii, where the company gathered its teams from the U.S. and Europe. Jobs had assembled everyone in a darkened theater to preview the now famous 1984 commercial introducing the first Mac.

"So we see this Big Brother commercial, and the lights come back up half way, and from the sky descends a Macintosh from a cable. Halfway through the descent, it booted up. The Mac was mic'd, so you heard the 'bong' and the whole crowd went absolutely crazy," Gassée recalled. "And then his Steveness walks across the stage and delivers a speech."

Atkinson recounted being taken by Jobs' pitching skills in a different manner, after being courted to drop out of his Ph.D program and join the company at its very early stages. After being pitched to join Apple by his friend Jef Raskin, who began the original Macintosh project, Atkinson said that he had been sent round-trip plane tickets to come down from Seattle and visit the company. There Jobs spent the day successfully convincing him to come on board, comparing the work being done at Apple to surfing, and that Atkinson would be riding the wave instead of trying to dog paddle into it.

"He believed in me, and I found that so empowering," Atkinson remembered of Jobs. "I got to invent the pull-down menu, and Steve let me do that," Atkinson said, a remark that garnered applause from the audience that had come to see the panel.

Not all stories were warm and fuzzy though. Deborah Stapleton, who had come on to do investor relations and public relations programs for Pixar ahead of its IPO, recounted her sometimes harrowing drives between Next Computer and Pixar's headquarters.

"You all haven't driven with him. It's wonder he lived as long as he did," Stapleton said. "He drove these big boat Mercedes and would drive us to Pixar. It was a two-hour drive and he'd get us there in an hour and ten minutes."

Herzfeld added that Jobs came up with plenty of "dumb" ideas too. "But he was relentless of following his art and his passion, and doing the greatest thing possible again and again and again."

Tesler spent some of the evening recounting Apple's famous trips to Xerox's PARC facility, including the one where Jobs and the team eyed the company's graphical user interface prototype. As Tesler explained, the fact that the meeting even got that far can largely be traced back to a deal made by Xerox's business development team, who at the time was eyeballing Apple as a source of cheap hardware production.

"Xerox was facing a lot of competition from Asian companies and copiers when their patents expired. They had higher production costs. But at the same time they had PARC inventions like the GUI, Ethernet, and improved mice," Tesler said. "They started worrying they wouldn't be able to build them fast enough. They looked at Apple pumping out Apple IIs for real cheap, and thought 'we should partner with Apple so they can make computers really cheap for us.'"

The result, of course, was the meeting where Jobs & Co. got to see the GUI, which ended up making it into the Mac OS, and had Tesler deciding to leave Xerox to go work there too.

As for Jobs' legacy, which had been the initial focus of the event, McKenna offered that Jobs will be remembered as one of the "greatest American inventors and entrepreneurs we've seen," but that it was too soon to articulate his legacy.

"We will miss Steve, but the world does continue to move on, and we won't know for probably until five to 10 years as to what Apple will do," McKenna said. "In the next five years, his culture of innovation, a driving force, and the way in which they approach innovation at Apple will sustain itself."

 

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