Up Close and ‘Personal’ with Former Apple CEO Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs (1955-2011), the co-founder and former CEO of Apple Inc., left us on this date seven years ago, having passed away on October 5, 2011, from a personal battle with pancreatic cancer. Today, on the seventh anniversary of his untimely passing, I take a fond look back at the three times I witnessed his aura and was in his presence.

Seeing Jobs at Apple Headquarters

I never met Jobs personally but could have had a quick conversation with him and asked for a selfie had I been brave enough to do so. I was so excited to see him, just inches away from the Apple CEO — the closest I ever got to the man — that I was standing there stunned and fumbling for my iPhone in my belt holster so that I could snap a picture of him. Not wanting to be rude, however, I waited until he passed me and his back was to me. I didn’t need a shot of his face because he was wearing his iconic “uniform” of choice, blue jeans and a black mock turtleneck. How could you not know what the guy was even from his backside?

Jobs was most likely returning from an errand or maybe on his lunch break out somewhere possibly growing tired of the food served on site at the Apple Campus, the company’s headquarters at the time at 1 Infinite Loop in Cupertino, California. Or he could have been at the doctor that morning before heading to work, considering his waning health at the time. That’s all pure speculation on my part. and I wish now, after the fact, that I had taken the opportunity to speak to him and asked him, such as “Coming back from lunch Mr. Jobs?” and who knows what could have transpired? Unfortunately, I’ll never know…

So, what was I doing there? It was the Summer of 2010, and Apple was holding an educator’s conference on site. Being the technology coordinator concurrently at two school sites at the time, I wanted to attend to expand my horizons. During our lunch break, I decided to take a brief tour of the campus grounds, first walking to the Apple Company Store which was a special store that sold Apple-themed merchandise such as clothing, mugs, mousepads, and the like. The store also sold some software titles but surprisingly, no hardware or devices.

After a quick look through the store’s offerings to see what I would buy after I returned when the conference was over, I left and headed toward the main building. I crossed the street so that I could get a shot of the building and as I made my way across — there was Jobs walking toward me from the parking lot in all his glory!

Steve Jobs, co-founder and former CEO of Apple, heads back to work.

Steve Jobs, co-founder and former CEO of Apple, heads back to work at the main building of the Apple Campus at 1 Infinite Loop in Cupertino, California in this August 2010 photo. (Photo: Joe Leo)

1 Infinite Loop

In a Wired magazine article published last month sharing the oral history of the former Apple headquarters, with the new one now being Apple Park, also in Cupertino, the company’s headquarters since April 2017, editor at large Steven Levy interviewed many Apple employees from the past to the present, and one particular employee said something about Jobs’s daily routine that I was in part a witness to.

Dan Whisenhunt, Vice President of real estate for Apple from 2007 to 2018, said, “He had very predictable paths. The first was from the parking lot through the lobby up to his office.”

One of my favorite stories about Jobs is this one that I have heard a number of times which always elicits a laugh whenever I read it.

Scott Forstall, Senior Vice President of software at Apple from 1997 to 2012, said:

“Whenever I ate with Steve, he insisted on paying for me, which I thought was a little odd. Even if we went in together and he selected something quick like pre-made sushi and I ordered a pizza in the wood-burning pizza oven, he would wait for me at the cash register for 10-15 minutes. I felt so awkward.

“Finally, I told him. ‘Seriously, I can pay for myself, so please don’t stand there and wait for me.’ He said, ‘Scott, you don’t understand. You know how we pay by swiping your badge and then it’s deducted from your salary? I only get paid a dollar a year! Every time I swipe we get a free meal!’ Here was this multi-billionaire putting one over on the company he founded, a few dollars at a time.”

The article is a very interesting piece on the history of 1 Infinite Loop from the people who worked there, but it is also a fitting tribute to the memory of Jobs from those who worked closely with him, from his return to the company and turning it around to the day he left us all.

Seeing Jobs at Macworld Expo

Prior to that close encounter of the second kind, the other two occasions I saw Jobs was at the two Macworld Expos before Apple left the show in 2009. The first time I saw Jobs in person was at Macworld Expo in 2007, my first time attending and covering the event. The second time was at Macworld Expo 2008, but it was only seeing him on a large screen in an overflow room, as I was not fortunate enough to get into the main gathering venue that year when the MacBook Air was unveiled.

Macworld Expo 2007 was very special because it would be the first time ever that I would get to see Jobs give one of his famous keynote presentations. Before that, I would only read about those announcements in Macworld magazine or elsewhere on the web. Second, I had never been to a Macworld Expo and Conference before, so that was my first. The publisher of the website I was working for at the time, the now-defunct PowerBook Central (recently merged with its sister site MacPrices, which I currently also write for since April 2018), had assigned me to the biggest story of my career as a journalist, giving me the huge task of live blogging the event, something I had never done before in my life. Of course, as everyone knows, the highlight of that expo was the unveiling of the very first iPhone, and I was glad to have been there to witness history in the making.

As I wrapped up my live coverage of the event on my ultra-portable PowerBook G4 12-inch (a 1.5 GHz model from 2005) connected to the internet via a Sprint USB mobile broadband card (by Novatel Wireless) — since I did not want to rely on the free WiFi at the venue and be bogged down by multiple connections simultaneously in use — I was seated in one of the back rows oblivious to the action taking place up front after the keynote presentation had finished. Up onstage was Jobs with an iPhone in his hand, posing for the press photographers and audience members with their cell phones. Thankfully, I took notice but did not want to miss the shot, so I put my PowerBook on the seat next to me, pulled out my Canon D-SLR and attached a zoom lens, and snapped a shot from my seat. Had I packed up my belongings first and walked up to the front, or God forbid, left all my stuff behind which was not an option, I may or surely would have missed the opportunity to get the photograph.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs holds an iPhone onstage after his keynote presentation at Macworld Expo 2007.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs holds an iPhone onstage at the venue in Moscone Center West and poses for the throng of cameras around him after his keynote presentation at Macworld Expo 2007 in San Francisco, California. (Photo: Joe Leo/PowerBook Central)

In reference to the iPhone, the aforementioned Wired magazine article detailed its development by various members of the Apple team. Another one of my favorite stories about Jobs is also from Forstall, who told the story that begat the creation of the iPhone which, if you did not already know, was the precursor to the iPad with all the technologies that went into the iPhone being originally developed for a computer tablet.

Forstall said:

“One day Steve and I were having lunch outside at Café Macs and we both flipped open our phones to check something. We looked around and saw that almost everyone around us was carrying a phone and they were all horrible. Steve looked at me and said, ‘Do you think the technology we’re building for the tablet could be used to build something that could fit in your pocket?’ We prototyped something and that was the beginning of the iPhone.”

Jobs’ Passing and His Legacy

Then came October 5, 2011, which I won’t forget anytime soon. I remember getting the breaking news alert on my iPhone screen from the Associated Press which reported that Jobs had died. It made me tear up and a little emotional for not even knowing the man personally. But something about him made you feel like you knew him, especially if you were a user of the many products created by the company he co-founded, was ousted from, then came back to save from the brink of death. Sadly, he could not do the same for himself, succumbing to the cancer that took him away from us before it was his time.

Today, Apple is at the very top of its game, being the first company to be valued at more than a trillion dollars in August, not only because of Jobs’s return but also to the many products he oversaw after his second coming: the iMac in 1998, the iPod in 2001, the iPhone in 2007, and the iPad in 2010. Not to mention Siri, the digital virtual personal assistant which began as a third-party app before Apple acquired the technology two months later in 2010 and incorporated it into iOS 5 with the release of the iPhone 4S a day before his passing, which was one of the final projects he closely worked on before his death in 2011.

Jobs’ Final Gift to Apple

His ultimate final “product” however was Apple Park, which Jobs spearheaded and planned to fruition until his final days. In another Wired magazine article, this one published last year about the building of the company’s new headquarters, also written by Levy in advance of its opening, the editor at large wrote the following:

“The phrase that keeps coming up in talks with key Apple figures is ‘Steve’s gift.’ Behind that concept is the idea that in the last months of his life, Jobs expended significant energy to create a workplace that would benefit Apple’s workers for perhaps the next century.”

I have not yet visited Apple Park and hope to do so one day though, to my dismay, being visually impaired, I will never see the grandeur of its design and appearance.

An Apple fan my whole life, getting the chance to see Steve Jobs in person was the next best thing to knowing him. And while I did not know him personally, I was glad to have been gifted the honor to just be in his presence the few times that I had the opportunity to see him speak at the Macworld Expo or my chance up close and somewhat “personal” encounter with him when I bumped into him on his home turf. They are wonderful memories of a great man I admire who left us too soon.

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