A lot has been written about Steve Jobs today and yesterday and it's hard to generate enough ego to pile on, but since I have had a few run-ins with him over the years, some close encounters and others from one or two degrees of separation, I thought it was at least worth a few lines.
My first encounter with Jobs was sometime in the early 90s, I'm really not sure exactly when. It was at the old MacWorld, when they used to stage it in the hot New England summers in Boston. I somehow found myself at a private luncheon at a table close to the dais where Jobs was on a panel. For some reason, Esther Dyson was at my table, which must have been by chance. When Jobs started to take questions, Esther's hand shot up and she asked something pointed. I can't remember the question, but I remember Jobs bristled. He shot back. Esther, herself no wilting flower, re-engaged. It was on. My memory is that it lasted a while, but it was probably a short exchange, and I do recall feeling uncomfortable. I walked out not sensing it was historic, but certainly memorable. It was the first time I had been close to Jobs' intimidating mind, but not the last.
In 1997, I met John Sculley. John was involved as an investor and non-executive chairman of LivePicture, an early player in the digital photo world that emerged in the late 1990s, and I was his PR agency guy. I found Sculley an affable guy with an almost patrician style. I didn't ask much about Jobs, but the subject came up in every press interview we did, which were many. I remember he always seemed to shake his head and look forlorn at the subject of Steve Jobs. I always sensed that he was disappointed more than anything else at the way their relationship had devolved, almost like the way an older brother thinks of his brash younger sibling.
My relationship with another early Apple employee, Trip Hawkins, runs much deeper. I met Hawkins around the same time I met Sculley. Hawkins was a polar opposite to Sculley. Steve's impact on Trip could not have been more different. He was employee 56 or something at Apple, so he was in the thick of business culture upheaval that Jobs brought to technology and at that time relatively stale Silicon Valley. For Hawkins, Jobs was all inspiration. Trip had always conceived of the computer as a gaming device and he gleaned so much about starting a business and understanding how to be different from Jobs. Trip is a proud guy, something I have always liked about him in the 15 years I have known him, and he will eagerly enumerate the business and technical inventions he made after founding EA. But you can tell when he talks about Jobs, that there is reverence there. When, some 20 years after they stopped working together, Hawkins' games company, Digital Chocolate sported the top positions on Jobs' latest -- and perhaps greatest -- invention, the iPhone, I could see a sense of satisfaction in Trip. The falcon had come home to the falconer.
My closest encounter with Jobs came in 1997 at a San Francisco event to launch the Mac edition of Microsoft Office. Steve was deep in his own wilderness and his beloved company was there with him. NeXt had ostensibly failed. Pixar had one hit and was on its way, but none of us could tell how great it would be. And there was Steve on stage with his trademark minimalist slides touting not only the new software but also the $150 million investment Microsoft had recently made. After the speech, long before his most recent celebrity, Steve was standing near the stage in a gaggle of reporters, holding court. I was standing with a new friend, (who is now an old friend) and a senior national reporter covering Apple. As Steve spoke, answering a variety of questions in a pretty intimate setting, my friend became agitated, paralyzed in the presence of Jobs, wanting to ask a question, but feeling inadequate. He was intimating, just as he had been in Boston just a few years before. But I remember thinking there was a certain humility this time. He was witty, confident and persuasive, but he was on a different mission than he had been before. He was older and probably wiser.
The last time I saw Jobs in person was at D – All Things Digital, just a few years ago in what has become a famous series of interviews. He had been very sick but his clothes weren't yet draping on him like they do on a wire hanger. Everything, except his mind, seemed to move a little slower. Everything was a little less intense than in my other encounters, except his eyes, which glistened in the refraction of his glasses. I saw him both in his individual interview, in his historic dual interview with Bill Gates and then hanging around the conference that evening. I was never close to him, never spoke to him (I may have in San Francisco that night years before, but probably said something silly or at best forgettable) but unlike the other times, now I knew I was in the company of true genius.
I can't say Steve Jobs has had some great impact on me or my life. I buy Apple products and love them. I converted my company to all Mac PCs. And my experiences are probably close to a lot of people's. Famous people get around and everyone in their sphere feels touched somehow. But I have memories that will stick with me and I will tell my grandchildren some day that I stood that close to Jobs once or twice and they will look at me like we might look at someone who saw Edison demonstrate the phonograph. And they'll be right. I may not make history in my life, but I stood pretty close to it once.