Steve Jobs Before The Turtleneck: Early Colleagues Remember The Tech Pioneer


The outpouring of grief following Steve Jobs’ death Wednesday underscores the intimate connection millions of people felt with the visionary Apple co-founder.

Most had never even seen Jobs in person, but their deep appreciation for the revolutionary devices Jobs pioneered seems to make people feel as if they had cultivated a unique relationship with the former CEO.

“What’s remarkable is the romance Steve created between the customers and himself,” said Jay Elliot, who served as Apple's senior vice president between 1980 and 1986. “They feel like they lost a friend, even though they didn’t know him.”

The Huffington Post spoke with three of Jobs’ colleagues -- John Sculley, the former CEO of Apple; Richard Crandall, Apple distinguished scientist; and Elliot -- men who collaborated with Jobs, helped him celebrate his bachelor party and offered him relationship advice. They shared stories, memories and reflections on their time with Jobs, a visionary who they knew intimately even before he adopted the black turtleneck, and whose historic career they followed for decades.

* * * Richard Crandall: “He was the first in history to bring cosmetic perfection to the engineering world.”

Crandall met Steve Jobs in 1981 on the Reed College campus in Portland, Ore.

Crandall, then a physics professor at Reed, recognized Jobs from his brief tenure at the school. He approached Jobs to explain that his laboratory was in need of a computer that could help measure the speed of light.

Jobs promised he had a “really good one” coming up. Three years later, the Apple co-founder unveiled the Macintosh, a groundbreaking personal computer that made history with its revolutionary user interface.

Crandall, who retired from Reed, went on to become chief scientist at Jobs' NeXT and now works for Apple as a distinguished scientist. In 1991, Crandall helped throw Jobs’ bachelor party -- a low-key affair that involved a soufflé dinner, a limo and Jobs nursing his tequila shot. And two decades later, he mourned the loss of his friend and colleague, a once-in-a-generation visionary.

“The wonderful paradox about Steve Jobs is that he lived almost entirely in the present, and yet was able to place inventions onto the timeline of the future,” Crandall said.

Q. What was your most vivid memory of Steve Jobs? My most vivid memory is when he and I made up a Christmas verse about NeXT. We were both bachelors in about 1990 and I was working Christmas eve late at night in the NeXT facility in California. I had retired from full-time teaching at Reed College to do research at NeXT in the scientific uses of computers. And he came in as a bachelor and said, 'What are you doing here?' We were the only two people in the building and I was working on some statistical application for the NeXT machine, and later on email we made up this little snippet of a poem: 'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring except for a mouse.'

He had a distinct sense of humor. It was subtle but distinct. When you finally saw it, his sense of humor glowed like a bulb.

Q. What was the most important lesson you learned from Jobs? You learn whether you’re a musician or a writer or a scientist to ‘put your best foot forward.’ The lesson I learned from him is that’s not right. You need to put both feet forward and hope you’re putting forward your two best feet.

Q. What was the most important yet unsung quality of Jobs? He was connected to the earth. He went to a liberal arts college, Reed College. He loved apples as a food source, that’s why company’s name was ‘Apple.’ He enjoyed swimming and being out in the forest when he could.

I think of him as the ultimate hippy: a hippy who succeeded in industry beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, which is kind of counter to the idea of hippy. But he always had the connection to the earth, good thinking and good living.

* * *

John Sculley: “He ran the Macintosh division like a master artist who runs his atelier.”

In 1983, Jobs convinced Sculley to become CEO of Apple with the now-legendary pitch: He asked Sculley whether he wanted to “sell sugar water for the rest of your life or come with me and change the world?”

Sculley, who served as CEO until 1993, recalled that Jobs furnished the Macintosh group’s workspace with only the most bare-bones of furniture, but added a $150,000 piano and $80,000 Ducati motorcycle to the common area to inspire his team.

“He wanted the best of the best and he wanted his people to realize that what they were building was the best personal computer, so he set the standard high,” Sculley said.

“Everybody in the technology world typically thinks about technology in terms of metrics like performance. Steve always thought about technology in the context of transforming technology into magic.”

Q. What was your most vivid memory of Jobs? My most vivid memory is that he didn’t care about money and didn’t care about accumulating possessions -- he just cared a lot about building incredibly magical products that would change the world. And he did it. And he did it in a way that touched even more lives than he’d know it would.

Q. What was the most important lesson you learned from Jobs? I learned that you have to have principles that you will never compromise on. Steve was rigorous in sticking with his principles -- those principles started with user experience and everything revolved around the user experience.

Q. What was Jobs’ most important yet unsung quality? I’d say one of Steve’s greatest talents was his ability to constantly simplify. I can remember when engineers would bring something to show him and he’d say, ‘Not good enough. You did it in three steps. I want it in two steps,’ and toss it back to them. He was relentless in not compromising and simplifying things.

Also Steve was never really interested in possessions or money. As a person, his house when I knew him was bare of furniture: there was only a picture of Einstein and Gandhi, and a lamp and a bed. He was very much a minimalist in many ways. I saw in Architectural Digest magazine that someone got plans of the house Steve was building in Woodside. It was so understated and so simple and so small. He was one of the wealthiest men in the world and he had several bedrooms in the house sharing the same bathroom.

* * *

Jay Elliot: “Steve brought a sense of rock culture to Silicon Valley.”

Jobs swore that he “would never trust anybody over 30 years old,” according to Elliot. Though Elliot was more than 10 years Jobs’ senior and over 30 at the time, the Apple co-founder frequently consulted him for relationship advice.

“I told him I thought he had to be careful who he went after. He was very much a media guy, almost starstruck,” Elliot said. “He’d look at an actress and say, ‘She’s beautiful.’ I’d say, 'You have to be careful because maybe you’re on a different wavelength.'”

“He always thought people in show business were more interesting than him, which was not true," Elliot added.

Elliot also recalled that the Jobs he knew had yet to embrace black turtlenecks: “In the early days, when I worked with Steve, it was white shirts and jeans.”

Q. What is your fondest memory of Jobs? My fondest memory of Steve is absolutely when we visited Xerox PARC and he went crazy over the mouse. It was this thing that ultimately set off a revolution in terms of user interface. No one else understood that. It was a defining moment for him.

Q. What was the most important lesson you learned from Jobs? What I learned from Steve is that you have to be totally committed to whatever product you’re building. In order to build the best product, you really have to be a consumer yourself. You’d better design a product that you’re going to love and want to use for the rest of your life.

Q. What’s least well-understood about Jobs? He comes across in some ways as an aggressor, but he was very shy. Once, we were going to a restaurant in San Francisco and we ran into Dan Ackroyd and Steve wanted me to go ask him for his autograph. He had this shyness, but he was also enamored with these so-called showbiz people.

Q. How will you remember Jobs? Steve challenged every part of me. I loved being challenged and I loved being exposed to that level of quality and accomplishment. It was a gift to be working with someone who had those smarts and vision. I was excited to go to work every day. Steve forces you to figure out who you are and who you are going to be.

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