My One Little Steve Jobs Anecdote

So Steve Jobs stepped down as Apple CEO yesterday, and people far and wide are sharing their stories of the man. Mine might be the smallest of any you’ll read, but I hope you’ll enjoy it anyway.

The reason I tell it is that once I started working at Apple (in 1999, a couple of years after Steve returns to the company), people started asking me if I’d met him. Something about the way they asked, or a look in their eye, made me realize what they really wanted was a “blood in the water” story about the CEO with the famous temper, or temperament, or something. I’d heard stories myself (one is that he’d sometimes ask people he encountered in the elevator what they worked on, and basically make them justify their job right there and then), but they were just stories to me. Oh, I had no doubt that he was emphatic in arguing about things, but I didn’t know any credible stories of him really laying into an employee he’d met at random.

Still, after just a few years it had become kind of ridiculous how many people asked me if I’d met Steve, who seemed to have an expectation of a good, juicy Steve story. I think at least a few of them asked if he’d yelled at me.

Indeed, I did pass Steve from time to time on the Apple campus. At least twice we simply made eye contact, smiled, and said “Hello” to each other, and continued on our ways. Once I saw him approaching with a look on his face that said “I’m on a mission and no one is going to get in my way.” I got out of his way and he walked on by.

But here’s the real story I have to tell:

In 2003 I started biking to work regularly. For a number of years I worked in Infinite Loop 1 – 2 floors below the CEO’s office. Despite being only on the second floor, I always took the elevator to bring my bike to and from my office: My office was big enough to hold my bike comfortably (so I didn’t have to lock it up outside), and it was awkward to carry it up and down the stairs; I was always afraid I’d damage the wall or the bike. I would wait for an empty elevator if someone else was waiting so I didn’t inconvenience them.

So one warm summer day (2004, maybe?) I’m leaving work, in full “biking dork” regalia (biking shorts, helmet, gloves, clip-on shoes), and I go to the elevator and hit the “down” button. The elevator arrives and (of course) there stands Steve. I think, “Great, he’s wondering why I can’t just walk my bike down one flight of stairs rather than stopping his elevator.” But since it would be truly stupid to let him go on without me (“I’m going to inconvenience you and do so for no reason whatsoever because I’m an idiot!”), I get in the elevator. The doors close.

Steve looks at the bike, looks at me, and says, “Beautiful day for a bike ride.”

I’m not very comfortable talking to famous or powerful people (you should see me stammer when I meet a science fiction author whose work I admire). Thinking quickly but not clearly (in other words, being something of an idiot), I say something like, “It’s nice. A little warm, though.” Steve is having none of this and responds along the lines that I’m picking nits. I allow that he may be right. By this time we’ve left the elevator and walked out the front doors of the building.

I remember thinking as we went outside that it was a little warm, but in the grand scheme of things, here we were in Silicon Valley where it’s almost always a beautiful day for a bike ride. So what did I really have to complain about?

I bet there are lots of employees with stories like this. The “blood in the water” stories seem more like legends (or, more likely, the stuff of high-level meetings among people whose job descriptions include going at it tooth-and-nail with the CEO, meeting a line worker like me would never hear about). Maybe he was different his first go-round at Apple, but if so, he’d grown a lot by the time he returned.

Oh, and no one I’ve told this story to has seemed disappointed by it. So maybe they didn’t really want the blood after all.

6 thoughts on “My One Little Steve Jobs Anecdote”

  1. When I lived right down the street from Apple, I managed to arrive at very nearly the same time as Steve every day for about a year or so, so we went into the elevator together surprisingly often (at least once or twice a week for several months).

    Couple of quick “Steve in the elevator” anecdotes:

    1. I did get asked “so what do you do here at Apple”, but it didn’t seem very confrontational, and after I told him I was working on QA for Rhapsody, we talked a little about how the project was going (painfully slowly at that point), and I went on my merry way. Interestingly, though I ran into him a fairly large number of times afterwards, he never asked me what I did again. I always wondered whether he actually remembered what I had answered, or just that he’d already asked me.

    2. One day, we both got into the elevator, each carrying nothing but a banana. He said something like: “hey, we each brought a banana for lunch”. This Dilbert strip immediately came to mind, which caused me to nearly choke trying to suppress my laughter.

    …and then there was the time I nearly knocked him down in the hallway at NeXT, but that’s not strictly speaking an elevator story.

  2. Back in the NeXT days he would sometimes call the house very early in the morning looking for my room mate. I think Camille usually talked to him though.

    I dont think he yelled at me in one one scary encounter with him. I was just right out of college and a bit freaked out. Shortly after starting at NeXT as a contactor in QA I was sent with another fairly new person with the latest release build to install it on Steve’s computer. Unfortunately neither he or his secretary were there, so of course we went into his office to look at his computer. We were standing there behind his desk with our gold CD arguing about whether we should touch the computer, wait or just leave when the man walked in and wanted to know what we were doing in his office. Pretty sure there was some stammering involved.

  3. I suspect — but of course don’t know for sure — that all of those bloody stories from his first go-around had a lot to do with the fact that he actually had to fight for a lot of his ideas, a fight he lost, really. He then went off and did other things and the company almost killed itself before it more or less got down on bended knee and offered him the crown again.

    This second time around, he’s been the undisputed monarch of the company, requiring a less combative stance.

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