updated 02:34 am EDT, Thu May 31, 2012
Jobs' appearances at the conference released as HD podcasts
Steve Jobs' name and legacy have been mentioned frequently at this week's All Things D conference in Rancho Palos Verdes in California, particularly during the keynote interview of Apple CEO Tim Cook. Two of Jobs' friends united to remember him in an interview yesterday -- Oracle CEO Larry Ellison and Disney Animation President Ed Catmull. In addition, host Walt Mossberg announced that Jobs' own previous interviews from the conference series would be released.
Ellison and Catmull agreed on many of Jobs' qualities, but also painted very different pictures of Jobs from different points in his life. Though his early approach to leadership was often unsuccessful (at least as often as it was successful), the two men also talked about how Jobs would -- sooner or later -- recognize and learn from most of his mistakes or bad qualities. As he got older, they said, the brash and confrontative -- sometimes petulant and cruel -- Jobs gave way to a man who had more positive qualities than negative ones, though he still retained some irritating obsessions.
Ellison recalled that he became tired of seeing a new, slightly-updated version of the then-unreleased Pixar movie Toy Story every time he would come to visit prior to the film coming out, or got bored by Jobs' obsession over minute details when it came to the customer experience. He spoke of how Jobs would spend hours in a mock-up Apple Store built ahead of the first such store's opening, discussing the checkout process (and bemoaning the flaws in the Oracle software that was used).
Catmull showed that Jobs could take a completely different approach, such as he did during his time at Pixar. He spoke of a CEO that never attended story meetings once he was sure he had the right team in place, and deferred story decisions to them -- quite the opposite of the obsessive perfectionist Jobs was known as at Apple. Catmull added that the "wilderness years" of being dismissed from his own company, his failure with NeXT and his time at Pixar helped re-shape the mercurial leader into a better manager.
Catmull described Jobs as being very kind and empathetic to people, though he would occasionally use strong opinions and even shouting matches to gauge how passionate people were and to test their arguments. Echoing comments by Cook earlier, Catmull noted that Jobs could be persuaded by an argument and consequently completely do a 180-degree turn on his previous opinion, becoming an idea's champion where he had previously dismissed it.
Ellison told the story of how he and Jobs originally met as neighbors in Woodside, California. Jobs' girlfriend at the time had given him a live peacock as a birthday present. The bird wandered over into Ellison's yard and woke him up, so Ellison confronted Jobs about the noisy bird.
Jobs confessed that he didn't like the bird either, but couldn't get rid of it until Ellison provided him with an excuse -- a neighbor's objection. Ellison also illustrated Jobs' contrarian nature, recalling a discussion about original plan to create Apple Stores. Ellison argued that "brick and mortar" stores "were dead" in the future economy. Jobs replied "we aren't using bricks and mortar; we're using glass and steel."
Ellison repeated another point about Jobs that has seemingly been absorbed by Cook -- that his genuine interest was in building great products that people would love, convinced that this mission much more important than building the largest or richest company. "He wasn't trying to be rich," Ellison said. "He wasn’t trying to be famous. He wasn’t trying to be powerful. He was obsessed with the creative process and building something that was beautiful."
Though not known for being particularly interested in the more corporate side of the business, Ellison recalled that Jobs phoned him on the day that Apple's market cap exceeded that of Oracle's. He did not call to gloat, but rather to express his pride in Apple's accomplishment, since (as Jobs told Ellison) most Silicon Valley companies measured their worth against Oracle's as the standard.
Ellison also repeated the oft-told (but partially discounted by Jobs himself in his biography) tale of his arriving at the now-famous Apple "uniform" out of a lack of desire to spend time making mundane decisions about what to wear. Both men said that trying to copy Jobs would be a waste of time, "like trying to paint like Picasso by wondering if you need more red," Ellison said.
At the conference, organizers Mossberg and Kara Swisher announced that in cooperation with Apple, the various interviews of Jobs during his six visits to the All Things D conference would be released on iTunes as high-quality video and audio podcasts. While a number of excerpts and interviews have previously been seen, this is the first time all of Jobs' appearances have been collected together, including his well-remembered dual appearance with Microsoft chief Bill Gates in 2007.