Did Steve Jobs consider running for president?

November 10, 2011
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SAN JOSE, Calif. — Wednesday night the Churchill Club gathered two members of the original Mac team (Andy Hertzfeld and Bill Atkinson); Regis McKenna (who’s namesake PR firm represented Apple in the early years); Jean-Louis Gassee (who headed product development at Apple during his 10-year tenure there); Larry Tesler (ex-Apple VP of Advanced Technology and Chief Scientist) and Deborah Stapleton (former head of investor relations and PR at Pixar to discuss and debate Steve Jobs legacy. 

The panel discussion moderated by Fire in the Valley co-author Paul Freiberger, included plenty of friendly banter and funny, if not revealing stories about Jobs. For example, McKenna said Jobs once asked him if he thought he (Jobs) could be president without being a member of a political party. "I could fix these problems," McKenna recalled Jobs saying. 

Freiberger noted that Jobs was “a super entrepreneur, but it wasn’t his driving goal to set a legacy for himself; he wasn’t Donald Trump. He created a legacy by what he did.” 

Asked to name a great experience and an awful one, Tessler recalled an interaction with Jobs that was both. 

“In the early days he would call me at home and the usual time was about 2 a.m.,” said Tesler. “Now I was flattered Steve Jobs was calling me at home to get my opinion on something, but pissed off he was calling when I was asleep.” 

Gassee said Jobs was like a great editor, picking through the ideas of others and refining them into something better. 

But Hertzfeld disagreed. “He may have been a great editor as you say, but he had plenty of ideas — great ones and dumb ones.” 

Atkinson said “great” is a key distinction. “He never talked about making something “good” it was always about excellence, doing something the best it could be done,” he said. “And I never heard him talking about doing something to make money, it was always about how we could make people delighted. He taught me to think of engineering as an art form.” 

More broadly, Hertzfeld said Jobs main legacy was the way he approached technology as an artist. “Steve infused us with that passion that we were on a mission from God and that passion shines through the products we created.” 

Apple 2.0, the hits just kept on coming

The panel also discussed “Apple 2.0” when Jobs returned to Apple after essentially being fired and starting Next as well as well as buying the struggling Pixar from George Lucas. This period, that included the launch of the iMac, iPod, iPhone, iPad and the Apple Stores, is what truly established Jobs’ legacy as one of the greatest entrepreneurs of all time. 

Stapleton said that when Jobs bought Pixar “no one had a clue what a computer animated movie was.” Several blockbuster films later, he sold Pixar to Disney for $7.4 billion. 

While lauding many of Jobs’ skills and accomplishments, Stapleton quipped having been driven to many meetings with Jobs at the wheel “it’s a wonder he stayed alive as long as he did.” She also said the key to working well with Jobs was to “have a high threshold for pain.” 

Jobs was also known as a marketing whiz. The 1984 commercial directed by Ridley Scott is considered a classic.  But another famous series of ads, the Think Different campaign, wasn’t just about promoting Apple, according to Hertzfeld. 

“He said the main reason for those ads was that Apple had forgotten who it was and the ads were directed at the employees,” said Hertzeld. 

During Q&A, several questions were asked about whether Apple could sustain the same level of innovation in a post-Jobs world. 

Gassee got the biggest laugh of the night when, giving a nod to Jobs legendary, take-no-prisoners determination, he said he thought "there are a couple of flaming assholes there at Apple that can carry things forward." 

A more subdued McKenna said he thinks the innovation will be sustained. "Apple is a much more bottoms-up company than Microsoft.” 

Former PepsiCo President John Sculley has often told the story of how Jobs wooed him away to become Apple’s CEO in the early 1980‘s by asking if he wanted to “sell sugar water for the rest of your life or come with me and change the world?"

Surf's up

Atkinson said Jobs used a similar tactic to lure him away from graduate school where was studying to be a doctor.

“When you’re up in Seattle reading about hot technology, there’s a lag time there. If you want to change the world you have to be ahead of the lag time. You can help us create the future of computing,” Atkinson recalled Jobs saying. “Think about how much fun it is at the front of a wave when you’re surfing. Do you want to do that, or be the poor guy doggie paddling in back of the wave? Come to Apple and surf.

“He believed in me and always did over the 12 years I was at Apple. I found that so empowering,” said Atkinson. 

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