Today marks the 10 year anniversary of Steve Jobs’ passing. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long, but it’s true. The truth is I think of Steve most days, and I do what I can to honor his legacy actively and consistently. You see I was fortunate enough to call Steve a mentor for decades.
Steve’s legacy and impact spans multiple industries and categories (including personal computing, health and wellness, mobile lifestyle, multiple screens/devices, remote work, education, sports and the film/TV, music and publishing industries among others).
It’s hard to imagine anyone working in any creative profession today who would enjoy the freedom, fun and empowerment they have if Steve’s visions had not become a reality. Lives have been saved with the health and wellness tools he envisioned. Whole industries have been disrupted and have morphed as a result to the benefit of consumers (including music, film/TV and publishing). And we all have a lot more freedom in being able to live and work anywhere on our own terms because of the devices he imagined and the seamless way they operate together within the Apple ecosystem.
I grew up in Cupertino (home of Apple headquarters) and still reside here today. It was also Steve’s hometown, and we met when I was just 16 years old and still in high school. I was a member of a group called Future Business Leaders of America, and we were tasked with approaching a local business leader we admired and asking whether they’d be open to mentoring us. There was only one name on my list. Steve was the Willy Wonka of Cupertino, and Apple was the Wonka factory to me.
My mom was a college professor at De Anza College, and frequented the same vegetarian, healthy restaurants that other free spirits enjoyed. Steve hung out at a few of these same places as well (Cupertino was and is a relatively contained town).
One day when Mom and I were having breakfast at the Good Earth, I saw Steve sitting across the room, and I approached him. I introduced myself and told him about my quest to work with a local business leader as my mentor and asked if he’d be open to being mine. After a brief conversation he said, “let’s give it a try,” and that was the beginning of a relationship that I kept pretty much to myself, and enjoyed the benefits of, for over 30 years.
Some people have referred to me as a visionary given I’ve always seen how dots connect and where things were headed in terms of what people would want, possibilities others couldn’t imagine, and how industries could intertwine and blend beyond their more traditional siloes. I’ve nearly always been right in my predictions, but there have been times when waiting for them to come to fruition has been agonizing — living inside a crystal ball waiting for the world to catch up.
Steve noticed that about me early on, and he fostered and validated my visionary, entrepreneurial spirit. One day when we did one of our “walk and talks,” he acknowledged these gifts by telling me I could see around corners.
It was painful witnessing Steve getting bounced out of his own company, but like any great entrepreneur he pursued his passions in launching NeXT, and later in funding and leading Pixar to the highest of heights. It wasn’t until the late 80s that I joined Apple as an employee — and was on a very small team responsible for launching and running Apple’s earliest initiatives in music and entertainment. That’s when my career really took off.
Years later when the company was on the verge of bankruptcy, I’d tell management that there was only one person who could save the company. It was his to kill or keep. I was consistently chided. “He’s running two other companies,” they’d say; “he’ll never come back.” But my vision on that score was invincible and thank goodness it came to pass when it did; just in the nick of time for Steve to save and turn Apple around — ultimately making it the most valuable company in the world. I wrote a book some years ago, entitled, “The Magic and Moxie of Apple: An Insider’s View”. It was my homage both to the company as well as to Steve.
One of Steve’s biggest personal legacies was to see his dream ‘spaceship campus’ built. During the years when he was in the design process, we did a “walk and talk”where we discussed the fact that the campus was being built on old orchards like the ones we were both surrounded by in the region growing up. In particular, apricot orchards.
I told him that I felt he should honor the legacy of the land by planting fruit orchards at least on part of the campus, which he did. In fact, the campus boasts fruit of many kinds for employees to pick and enjoy including apples (of course), apricots, cherries, plums and persimmons, among others. It’s unfortunate Steve didn’t live long enough to see his cherished campus completed, but I’m confident that he’d be pleased with how it turned out.
Working at Apple has been an indelible part of my career and how I operate as a professional in the world. But having had Steve as a mentor has informed how I think and work my magic every day. I was incredibly fortunate to have that much-cherished relationship, and I miss him a whole lot.
One more thing. Wherever you are as you’re reading this, I hope you’ll pause to give thanks for the man, his remarkable impact and his legacy in multiple directions. As for me, it’s personal; I’ll forever be grateful for his contributions to me and my life, and he will forever remain close to my heart.