Where Were You When You Heard the News About Steve Jobs?
By Tony Kontzer
We collectively experience certain sad moments in history that will remain forever embedded in our memories, associated indelibly with whatever activity we were engaged in when we first heard the news.
Today was just such an experience. I was packing up my gear at Oracle's OpenWorld conference in San Francisco, just moments after CEO Larry Ellison abruptly walked off stage at the conclusion of his keynote, when the journalist next to me uttered an ominous "no way." I asked him what had happened, and he pointed to the Twitter feed on his laptop, which was abuzz with posts about Steve Jobs' death.
After a few frenzied moments trying to verify, we saw Twitter posts from Time Magazine, Ars Technica, and blogger Robert Scoble, and we knew it was true. Steve Jobs, possibly the greatest technology innovator of our time, was dead at 56.
As I walked out of the conference at Moscone Center, I noted how many of the people around me were carrying little pieces of Jobs around with them--an iPhone or an iPod here and a MacBook Pro or iPad there. And I thought about how many times they'd probably enjoyed the Toy Story movies with their kids, or downloaded their favorite songs from iTunes.
I also thought about the reverence that Ellison had shown for Jobs just minutes before the news broke, crediting Apple along with Facebook and Google for revolutionizing technology. And the similar that tribute Ellison's rival, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff, had offered during a press event earlier in the day, calling the two-time CEO of Apple "the amazing Steve Jobs."
I even thought about some of Jobs' notable failures, and hoped he was able to look back at them and laugh in the end.
I never had the opportunity to meet Jobs, so I don't have a lot of personal insight into the man. The closest I got was an acquaintance in the PR industry who had worked for Jobs in the mid-1980s. She told me many years ago that Jobs had once brought her to tears by crumpling up a marketing plan she'd spent a lot of time preparing for him, throwing it at her, and yelling that it stunk and that she should do it again.
Many more such stories of Jobs' temper emerged over the years, along with tales of his legendary elevator firings. For a long time, I resented him from afar for treating people like that. It probably went a long way toward my refusal to buy Apple products over the years, and lent a little zest to my criticisms of Apple's walled-garden business model.
At some point, however, I realized that it was this intensity that made Jobs the success he was. Without his ruthless drive for perfection, Jobs could never have taken Apple to the heights it's reached. And, oh, what heights they are. When Jobs departed this world on October 5, 2011, he left behind the most valuable and influential technology company in the world, one that he rescued from the ashes during his 14-year second stint as CEO, and which subsequently revolutionized the personal computer, music, smart phone and tablet industries.
And let's not forget the phenomenal success of Pixar, which ushered in such an exciting new era of movie animation that distribution partner The Walt Disney Co. was willing to pay $7.6 billion to acquire it in 2006, 20 years after Jobs bought the company for $10 million from Lucasfilm Ltd.
But Jobs' influence went far beyond technology and music and movies, in part because of the illness that took his life. After his cancer diagnosis in 2003 and liver transplant in 2004, he looked inward to provide moments of profound inspiration, such as his now-legendary commencement speech at Stanford University, in which he displayed a more philosophical side than we'd previously seen. Years from now, we may hold his words that day in as much regard as any of the innovations he unleashed upon the world. Ironically, as it turned out, I had too much faith in Jobs at the end, predicting erroneously that his Aug. 24 resignation wouldn't stop him from being the company's innovative force. After years of under-appreciating his genius, I had overestimated his health.
When the end came, it did so in classic Jobs fashion, his body waiting until the day after Apple had introduced its iPhone 4S to call it quits. Not even death was going to overshadow an Apple product launch. And I'm betting Jobs wouldn't have had it any other way.