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Everyone "knows" Steve Jobs, or thinks they do, in the sense that we saw him do those legendary on-stage product launches of the iPhone and the iPad. But what was Jobs like when he was off stage, when he wasn't changing history with Steve Wozniak, Bill Gates, Jony Ive and Tim Cook?
There's an amazing thread on Quora, the question-and-answer site, for people to tell stories of the times they "randomly" met Steve Jobs.
We've edited a few — there are many more on the thread, go look! — and excerpted them here.
This person told Jobs he would "ruin" Apple.
Michell Smith tells this story: Prior to his return to Apple, it was obvious that the company was in trouble. Larry Ellison had floated the idea of a hostile takeover of the company, but it seemed to some of us Apple watchers that then-CEO Gil Amelio's turnaround plan might work.
I wrote an impassioned email to Steve at Pixar, pleading with him to find something else to do with his time. "Please," I implored him, "don't come back to Apple, you'll ruin it."
… And then he wrote the words I'll never forget:
"You may be right. But if I succeed, remember to look in the mirror and call yourself an asshole for me."
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A childhood friend of Jobs pretended he didn't recognize him.
Jack Heringer was a childhood friend of Jobs from early 1960s, but they parted company when they went to different middle schools. Then, in 1976, they met in a store:
He showed up, recognized me and called me over. "Aren't you Jack Heringer from grammar school?" he asked. And, in that millisecond, my life's single most regretful experience occurred. I replied, " Yes that's me...and WHO ARE YOU?" I pretended I didn't remember him at all.
I have been kicking myself forever since!!!!!!!!!
Jobs met this woman who was smoking at dinner and did not like it one bit.
William Matthies and five others had dinner with Jobs in the early 1980s in New York: Dinner was over and while we waited for desert, Ann lit up a cigarette (remember this was the early '80's in NYC), holding it away and blowing smoke away from the rest of us at the table. Steve, who was seated next to Ann, gave no indication that this bothered him. He simply went on talking animatedly as he had all dinner.
At one point Ann put her lit cigarette in an ashtray the opposite side of Steve. He never looked at it but must have seen her put it down because without so much as a glance toward her or the cigarette, without breaking from whatever topic he was currently holding forth on at that moment, he reached across her, picked the cigarette up from the ashtray, and dropped it in her half full water glass.
I can still see the stunned looks on everyone's face except Steve who continued to educate the rest of us on...I have no idea.
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The day Jobs argued at the checkout at Whole Foods
Roy Pereira bumped into Jobs while doing the groceries:
I bumped into Steve at the Palo Alto Whole Foods near both of our homes. He was in front of me in line paying for his groceries. It was the express checkout and he was wearing his traditional black turtle-neck. This was back in the early 2000s.
Here was a very wealthy, smart guy arguing with the cashier about what the correct change was for his purchase. He was demanding that he got another quarter ($0.25) for his change. This discussion went on for several minutes and held up the line so much that everyone behind him (including us) were getting annoyed.
The time Jobs got excited by Excel in 1985.
Randall Edwards met Jobs at an IT conference: I had to get back to work so I headed out of the hotel into a nearby hotel where my car was parked. I pressed the button for the elevator, the doors opened and there was ... Steve Jobs!
I told him how much I enjoyed his presentation and shook his hand. He asked me what I did and I told him I was an IT Consultant. He told me about this amazing software that Microsoft was working on called "Excel". It is going to be phenomenal and that I should check it out. I told him I would.
"Boy, what a dick," I remember thinking, but ...
In the mid-1990s, after Jobs was kicked out of Apple and went to work at NeXT, Ramin Firoozye got a meeting with Jobs: He walked in 1/2 hour late, put his feet up on the table and asked me what I had. I introduced myself and mentioned that a couple of the engineers were ex-Apple people. ...
For the next half an hour he went on to rant pretty much non-stop... about the arrogance of Apple (!!!), the quality of their products, and anything unsavory you could think of. There were a lot of 'you Apple people' in there. I tried to break in and mention that we weren't really related to Apple (except the demo was running on a Mac Powerbook) but there was no stopping him.
"Boy, what a dick," I remember thinking. It went on and on.
… Then he comes back in. I was sitting down. He gets in front of the whiteboard and starts drawing notes. For the next I-don't-know-how-long he mapped out precisely how the product could be rolled out, the strategy for taking it to market, how it should be positioned, what other parts would be needed to fill in the gaps, all the way down to the features that should be taken out or added. It was the most amazing, useful, spot-on, and entertaining display of product management erudition I'd ever seen. He completely understood the product, the space, and what it could be used for.
The day Jobs visited a rival electronics store across the street from Apple in 2007
Mark Young remembers Jobs' appearance at the Helio store in 2007, located in Palo Alto across street from the Apple Store. Jobs had poked his head in once and the store staff did not recognize him: Two weeks later, the same manager was inside the store giving a demo of the amazing Helio smartphone to some prospective customers when he was interrupted by someone at the door. It was the same guy in the black turtleneck and blue jeans. “You guys STILL just don't get it, do you???” the guy said in an elevated voice from the entrance of the store. Then before the manager could respond, the guy was gone again.
The manager was visibly annoyed and said to his customers “Who is this guy and who the hell does he think he is???”
“That's the founder of Apple,” replied the customers.
This guy's car broke down outside Jobs' house.
Tim Smith knew his car was in front of the Jobs family house but tried to play it cool: So Steve comes out. ... so Jobs actually sits down in the Alpine and tries to crank it – with his kid sitting behind him. To no avail.
... The car didn’t start. ... Steve said something like “piece of shit” as he got out, and walked back into the house. Classic Steve – he was right.
Jobs used this guy's fan mail in an iPad product demo.
Chaitanya Pandit wrote jobs an email: I went home and before going to bed wrote a short email to Steve about how an iPad got a girl interested in me and almost forgot about it until. ... Days later, it was his WWDC keynote and I was following a few live blogs that night as I always do (I was GMT +5:30), then suddenly I saw something that was very familiar, it was my email that Steve displayed on the huge screen behind him. He said “It is magical, I know it because I got this email: I was sitting in a café with my iPad, and it got a girl interested in me!.” “So there’s proof.”
This guy got a customer service phone call from Jobs when his computer was broke.
Matt McCoy couldn't get any joy out of Apple customer service when his MacBook wouldn't work properly, so he randomly emailed Jobs: The next day I got a call from Palo Alto.
Caller: "Hey Matt. This is Steve Jobs. I just wanted to let you know that I got your email and we are going to do everything we can to recover your missing hard drive.
Me: "Whoa... thank you!"
Caller: "I'm going to pass you on to my assistant, and he's going to take care of you from here. We'll get you taken care of. Hold."
Then the call was transferred to a guy named "Tim". I'm still not sure what Tim's last name was... is it even possible that it was Tim Cook? I don't know what Tim's history is at Apple.
The day Jobs ate unrecognized at an Indian restaurant.
Anurag Wadehra was at the restaurant: So, it was with great amusement, we watched Steve raise his hand several times to attract the attention of the waiter, who summarily ignored him. As the only white guy in the restaurant, we thought he would be instantly recognized and served with special attention. Instead, he had the worst table in the house. A bored waiter passed plastic menu cards at his family without giving a second glance. Eventually, he did get served with the mass efficiency of an overworked staff. And, no one bothered him during his dinner either.
My wife and I observed in awe as Steve and his family enjoyed a quiet meal in the riotous, inexpensive place in the heart of Silicon Valley. It dawned on us that no one in the restaurant had recognized Steve in his low key attire and a stubble. At the end, when no one came to his table to present the check, Steve rose up, dropped a few cash notes on the table and walked out, as the server wiped his table.
Just then, the manager walked by, and I asked him, "Did you know that was Steve Jobs?". He smiled and gave me the Indian head shake - a cross between yes and no. To this day, I don't know what he meant.
The day Jobs met a recruiter for Sun Microsystems.
Bill Lee: In 1988, I was self-employed as a recruiter and had referred a number of candidates to Steve at NeXT Computer, which he subsequently hired. I had also worked at Sun Microsystems as a contract recruiter. In September of that year, Steve invited me to his offices on Deer Creek Road in Palo Alto for an informal interview. He was 45 minutes late. As soon as Steve led me into his office and closed the door, he turned and said, "You recruited for Sun and Sun hires shitty people."
"Well," I retorted, "You hired the ones Sun didn't want."
At that point, Steve cracked a big smile and exclaimed, "Touché!"
This man discovered Jobs was on email as early as 1989.
Phillip Remaker recalls: When I was at the University of Pennsylvania in 1989, some sales folks from NeXT did a demo of the NeXT Cube to some students at the Distributed Systems Lab. I noted on their business cards that NeXT email addresses were of the form firstname.lastname@example.org. On a lark, I shot off a note to Steve_Jobs@next.com asking if he read his own email and expressing my fanboy sentiments.
Yes, I do have an Internet address. Please help me by not spreading this fact around indiscriminately....
Thanks for the feedback.
I'm glad you like our little machine.
Jobs goes to the repair store just like everyone else.
Andrew Gerber-Duffy remembers: I was in the Sony Style store at the Stanford Mall. I can't remember what it was I was buying.
As I was waiting in the checkout line, I realized that Steve was 2 people ahead of me. He was wearing his usual black turtleneck and faded blue jeans. He was holding a projector.
"So I'd like to get this repaired," he said to the obviously bored cashier.
To my surprise, the man at the counter seemed totally oblivious to his identity.
"Okay," he responded, "what name do you want it under for pickup?"
"Just put it under Steve," he said.
The day Jobs explained why he improved the cafeteria food at Apple.
Gavin Cook worked at one of Apple's biggest clients. At a formal meeting, he asked: "Hi Steve, So how did changing your company cafeteria effect the company culture?"
... and with that Steve was off...
"It.. It, had nothing to do with company culture! The stuff they were feeding us was slop!"
"And you know hardly any one was eating here, and when they go off campus they don't go for an hour, they are gone for an hour and a half or two hours, So less work is getting done. And when they are out in a restaurant talking about their projects, people overhear things."
"So I called my friend who was an executive chef and asked him what it would take for him to come work here and fix it. He said he wanted a wood burning pizza oven and I said 'Done!' So now our cafe staff are company employees and when the engineers have to work late we can have the cafe stay open. Now we have vegetarian options and more variety. With better food people stay on campus and interact with each other more."
The day Jobs was nearly killed in the parking lot at Apple.
Anonymous: I may or may not have been a passenger in a car that may or may not have nearly hit a certain person who may or may not have been Steve Jobs as he walked across the parking lot of an Apple Campus in California. He may or may not have held up his hand, winced, then smiled and waved as those of us who may or may not have been Apple employees in the car looked on in complete shock, too terrified to wave back. He may or may not have jogged out of harm's way at that point, while we may or may not have just sat there, stunned. We may or may not have switched drivers for the rest of our training week out there.
This couple asked Jobs to settle a bet over how the Macintosh was named.
Bill Sheppard's wife had long maintained the name came from a contest for school students: We approached Steve and asked if he could settle a marital dispute for us. Without any hint of a smile he responded "if I can have one of your children" (which didn't come across at all creepy, though I see as I write this that it could be interpreted that way). We offered the dog (he wasn't interested), then my wife told the story of the naming contest. Steve said that Apple had a large marketing department to do things like pick names for their computers, and it was absurd to think they'd leave that to fifth graders.
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