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Steve Jobs remembered: Apple co-founder, typeface fanatic

Former Apple execs reflect on the leadership skills and attention to detail of Jobs, who died five years ago.

James Martin/CNET

Steve Jobs died five years ago after leading Apple through momentous decades.


In the tech world, five years feels like centuries. But for Apple, the legacy of Steve Jobs lives on.

The charismatic co-founder of the world's most profitable company died October 5, 2011, after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 56.

While Jobs has been gone for five years, he's remained in the public eye through books and films that portray his life, career and personality. Jobs was always a charismatic and controversial leader, beloved by many (including millions of Apple fanboys throughout the world) but hated by those who faced his wrath.

On Wednesday, Apple CEO Tim Cook tweeted in remembrance of his predecessor and his impact on the world at large.

Here are some memories from others who worked closely with Jobs during his time at Apple.

Attention to detail

Apple hired designer Clement Mok in 1982 to work on branding for 1984's Mac launch. He became co-manager of Apple Creative Services in 1985 and served as creative director for corporate and education marketing. He's one of the people responsible for the iconic imagery of Apple in its marketing and packaging, including the squiggly line drawings gracing early Mac promotional materials.

Another of Mok's duties was to redesign Jobs' business cards when Apple updated its brand identity and logo.

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"I was to go over the Steve's office and say, 'This is your new business card. I want you to take a look at it before we send it out to the printers,'" Mok said.

Jobs examined the business card closely. "At that point, no one knew he took calligraphy," Mok said. "Jobs was a fanatic about different typefaces. But we had no idea, at least many of us had no idea, that he had an appreciation of typography at that depth we now understand.

"He looked at the card and said, 'Shouldn't the kerning [the space between the letters] be tighter here and here? And here is too tight.' I was flabbergasted that he would be so into the weeds on that one little detail," Mok said. "That's how obsessed Steve was with details. I think I gained an incredible respect for him at that point. I thought I could say, 'Hey Steve, here's your card. FYI.' But he took time."

By the way, Mok said he agreed with Jobs -- the kerning was off on his original business card design.

Walking billboards

Jobs' obsession with detail went well beyond his business cards. He also cared deeply about the packaging used to sell Apple's products. The sleek white iPhone and Mac boxes, now iconic, wouldn't have happened if not for Jobs, said Tom Suiter.

Suiter served as Apple's first director of creative services and helped launch the Mac in 1984. He was also part of a revamp of product packaging.

Steve Jobs unveils an iPhone at an Apple developer conference in San Francisco.

James Martin/CNET

"When you think about [Apple packaging] and go into an Apple Store today and buy that package, it's such a delightful experience...It's so gorgeous. Apple's known for that. But I was lucky enough to be around when it was really bad."

When Apple launched its products in the early 1980s, "packaging was fragmented," Suiter said. Different divisions had different designers who made their packaging distinct from other groups. That "was costing us a lot of money," he said. Suiter's team was tasked with making a new, universal Apple package design in 1984.

They came up with two versions. One was "very cost-effective," the other "at least" triple that price, he recalls.

Apple devices, like 2014's Phone 6, still use the company's iconic white packaging.

James Martin/CNET

The cheaper version had two colors on corrugated paper stock. "It was very practical," Suiter said. "There was another version that was absolutely gorgeous. It used all of the six colors of the Apple logo. It had the Apple logo on one side and a black-and-white photo on the box."

Suiter's team presented the packaging options to the different groups at Apple. "The difference was dramatic in terms of cost," he said. "[We figured] there was no way we could pay that kind of money, and we'd have to go with that [cheaper] version."

But Jobs surprised Suiter. "Steve stopped everybody and said, 'No, here's how we're going to pay for it. We're going to take money from the advertising budget. I believe packages are like billboards. When people are carrying boxes around and putting [them] in their cars, it's a moving billboard for Apple so that's what we're going to do.'"

Apple still uses a similar design for its packaging today.

Standing up to Steve

Jobs was considered a genius by many, but he also had a temperamental side, which his employees knew all too well.

"[Steve] would come marching down the hall or skipping down the hall, calling...'What an idiot. I can't believe you did this stupid thing,'" said Debi Coleman, who joined Apple in 1981 as finance controller for the Macintosh.

It took her a year to learn how to confront Jobs. Coleman credits Joanna Hoffman, the executive in charge of Mac marketing, as her teacher. "Joanna said, 'Look him in the eye. You've got to stand up.' From that point on -- I'm not saying he wasn't tough, totally demanding and totally critical -- but he was totally wonderful to me."

Coleman became head of Mac manufacturing in 1984 and was one of the highest-ranking women in the tech industry. She took over the role of Apple chief financial officer in 1986. At a November 2015 reunion of women on the Mac team, Coleman attributed a big part of Apple's success to Jobs, saying he made people at Apple believe they could change the world. And even if he was intimidating, he had a softer side, she said.

One Sunday morning in the early days of the Macintosh computer, Coleman got a call from Jobs, asking that she meet him at the Mac factory. He wanted to give a tour to his father, Jobs said.

"That was a real wonderful experience to see how Steve loved and respected his adopted father," Coleman said. "I never saw anything like it before or since."

Dancing Pepsi cans

Jobs recruited John Sculley in the early 1980s to help him grow Apple's business. At the time, Sculley was CEO of Pepsi and had helped it overtake Coca-Cola as the top beverage maker. Jobs famously convinced Sculley to take the CEO role at Apple in 1983 by asking if he wanted to "sell sugar water for the rest of his life" or if he wanted to "come with me and change the world." Sculley, who was close with Jobs before helping to oust him in 1985, served as Apple's chief executive for a decade until being forced out himself.

Sculley still remembers the first time he visited Apple's Silicon Valley offices in 1982.

"I show up at this address and think I'm at the wrong place because there are no buildings, just houses," Sculley said. He met Jobs in the house used as Apple's executive staff offices, and then the two headed to the Mac building a couple blocks away.

"It was a beautiful blue-sky day, and there was a Jolly Roger pirate flag flying from the roof," Sculley said. "Steve was in great competition with the Lisa [computer] group. Lisa was the Navy so Steve wanted to be the pirates."

Steve Jobs took a hiatus from his medical leave in early 2011 to debut the iPad 2.

James Martin/CNET

Inside the Mac building was an expensive piano for some of the team engineers, as well as a motorcycle. When he walked into the engineering lab, Andy Hertzfeld, an original member of the Macintosh team who designed the system's software, had set up a demo.

"Steve had used the ruse that I was not interviewing for a job but I was there as the CEO of Pepsi and interested in Macs for Pepsi," Sculley said. "Andy had put together dancing Pepsi cans on the screen of the Mac. I didn't know that this was really pretty hard to do, was pretty novel. ... I was wondering why Andy was smiling with his Cheshire cat grin. That was the first introduction I had to what Apple was like. It was totally a startup."

For more on Apple memories, check out CNET's coverage of Apple's 40th anniversary and thoughts from women who worked with Jobs.

This story was first published October 5 at 5:00 a.m. PT.
Update at 7:11 a.m. PT: Added Tim Cook tweet.