Mira and I are grateful to share these thoughts on Steve Jobs from a friend of mine who worked with him at Apple. I first met Lori Jennings-Emery when she was the Apple Evangelist assigned to a tiny software development company I worked for at the time, Abacus Concepts, makers of SuperANOVA and StatView. When the world’s largest privately-held software company, SAS Institute, bought StatView from Abacus and hired some of us to work at SAS, Lori was still our evangelist. I think it speaks volumes about Lori that she had made us feel every bit as important back when we were part of Abacus Concepts. —Erin
The past few days, I’ve read a lot of stories about Steve Jobs and the kinds of memories folks have of him, many of these memories coming from my former Apple colleagues. I’ve been thinking about my various encounters with Steve during my 6 years in a corporate job at Apple’s Cupertino headquarters, trying to decide which story to share.
I won’t bother to reiterate the accolades that others have already so eloquently stated about Steve’s contribution to the world. Nor will I recount any episode demonstrating that famous penchant for invective that Steve could display when displeased (I witnessed said behavior, so I can attest that it is true, but that’s all I’ll say on the matter). What I do want to share is a story that illustrates a somewhat different perspective.
In the late fall of 2000, I was hosting representatives from a company out of the UK for meetings on the Apple campus. I had met them a couple of months earlier at their offices in England. They were in the U.S. lining up partners to do business in this country and made a stop at Apple to talk with people in marketing. These brilliant folks had developed a new way of analyzing blood to detect the presence of HIV and had created a device that was portable and made testing remarkably inexpensive. Nowadays, this sort of on-the-spot testing apparatus is commonplace, but in those days was relegated to the wishful thinking category. Back then, the only available testing took several days, had to be performed by a big, fancy laboratory and that meant a visit to a doctor’s office which also meant that the results of positive tests were reported to local health agencies. Consequently, a lot of people declined to be tested and so were not treated. The implications of a quick, private test were huge. What this company had created was going to change peoples’ lives not only in the industrialized world but in the emerging world as well.
After our meetings concluded late that afternoon, I was standing with the developers in the lobby of IL1, the main entrance to Apple’s facility, waiting for the taxi that would take them off to San Francisco. While we were chatting, I noticed Steve coming out of the executive offices upstairs heading for the stairwell. I said to the developers, ‘Looks like today’s your lucky day. I think Steve may walk right past us.” Even brilliant people doing amazing things can be a little star struck and I could see the excitement on their faces. I pondered whether I ought to try to actually introduce Steve to them.
You must understand that most Apple employees preferred to fly as far under the radar as possible where Steve was concerned. That mercurial temperament was not something most wanted to experience first hand. My own anonymity was long-since blown, though. Fortunately, I had already had several very positive interactions with him over the previous couple of years, so I knew that he recognized me and knew what I did at Apple even if he didn’t know my name. As he headed for the door, he looked up and I managed to catch his attention. For whatever reason, in that nanosecond, prudence thoroughly abandoned me. “Hi, Steve, do you have a minute?,” I asked. “These gentlemen would like to say hello and they are working on something I think you’d find really interesting.”
To my astonishment, he stopped, smiled and let me introduce him. He listened carefully as I explained the amazing product these folks had created, developed on and for the Mac. When I was done, he said “very cool” and then wished my guests success in their company and headed out the door. Needless to say, my developers were blown away. Their lucky day, indeed. Mine, too, since I still had a job!
We turned to watch as Steve left the building and I noticed what appeared to be a couple of groupies with cameras hanging around out there. As Steve walked past them, they asked him to take pictures with them. I thought for sure these guys were going to get blasted. But, I was surprised yet again. Steve simply said, “Thanks, guys, not today. I’m on my way home.” Then he bounced along in that childlike gait of his out to the parking lot.
Steve didn’t shuffle through life. He bounced, he loped, he bounded. Those who saw his keynotes may have caught a bit of this as he entered and exited, but the physical constraints of a stage limited his movement somewhat during his presentations. To get the full effect, you needed to see him moving through open territory. I like to think his gait reflected his enthusiasm and appetite for his work and life in general. Maybe somewhere deep in his DNA, he knew he had no time to squander.
I will leave the legacy question to others. Instead, the image I’m going to hold onto is of that afternoon, with Steve bouncing down the sidewalk, going home to his family.
Lori Jennings-Emery spent 11 great years at Apple, the last six working with developers of scientific and technical applications in Apple’s Developer Relations group. She is now retired from the tech world and resides on the edge of the woods in Western Washington with her husband, two cats and the various critters of the woodland who come to visit, have a bite to eat and entertain.