Execs remember Steve Jobs as a tireless perfectionist

At the D10 conference, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison and Pixar President Ed Catmull share their memories of working with the late Apple co-founder.

Steven Musil Night Editor / News
Steven Musil is the night news editor at CNET News. He's been hooked on tech since learning BASIC in the late '70s. When not cleaning up after his daughter and son, Steven can be found pedaling around the San Francisco Bay Area. Before joining CNET in 2000, Steven spent 10 years at various Bay Area newspapers.
Expertise I have more than 30 years' experience in journalism in the heart of the Silicon Valley.
Steven Musil
2 min read

Two Silicon Valley executives who worked closely with Steve Jobs over the years shared some of their memories of the late Apple co-founder today, painting a picture of Jobs as a tireless perfectionist who learned from his mistakes.

"Steve would translate good ideas into a finished product unlike anyone in the industry," Oracle CEO Larry Ellison said during an onstage discussion at the D10 conference in Palos Verdes, Calif. (See live blog.) Ellison likened Jobs to Henry Ford in the way he changed the industry. "That was Steve, until it was perfect. And then once it was perfect...he moved on to the next problem."

"Working incessantly until it was done, that was Steve," Ellison said.

That made Jobs a "bit of a control freak," Ellison said. "He wanted to control every aspect. Including how you pay for an item in a store. Or what it looked like in a box."

But still, Pixar Animation Studios President Ed Catmull credited Jobs' ability to change and learn for the studio's success.

"He went through some very distinct phases. In the first phase, people misunderstood him," Catmull said. "But he was learning from those mistakes. The way he negotiated didn't work very well. But he was so incredibly smart that he changed his behavior."

Catmull related a story about the making of "A Bug's Life," during which an argument broke out between the film's director and the marketing department over whether it should be a widescreen movie. The director "freaked out," Catmull said, arguing with Jobs over the film's format. Catmull said he later had to assure the director that he had won the argument. "All Steve wanted to see was the passion," Catmull told the director, and the film was released in widescreen.

"Steve was one of those people where the best idea won," Ellison added. "But you had to persuade him, and he was a smart guy."

Echoing a sentiment voiced last night by Apple CEO Tim Cook, Catmull said Jobs could quickly change his mind about details.

"It was amazing to see him flip," he said. "But he wanted you to argue back."

"Steve was not intellectually insecure," Ellison added. "When he decided someone had a better idea, he moved on immediately. He didn't care. All he cared about was building the best product."

But he also knew his worth to the company. When asked why Jobs was forced out of Apple in the mid-'80s, Ellison said Jobs "made himself vulnerable. He didn't negotiate with his board well enough. He expected the board to know that he was irreplaceable."

"When the board got rid of Jobs, it almost cost Apple its existence," Ellison said.

Jobs also mellowed over the years, according to Catmull.

"The Steve that I knew in the last few years was very kind," he said. "There was a notion of fairness that wasn't there in the early years."