One year after his passing, we asked friends of Steve Jobs for memories never shared with the public
Hide the Porsches
Randy Adams, among the first employees at Next
Software engineer Randy Adams initially turned down Steve Jobs’ offer to work at NeXT, the computer company started by Jobs after his ouster from Apple. It was 1985. Adams wasn’t ready to go back to work after selling his pioneering desktop software publishing company. Within a few days Jobs was on Adams’ answering machine. “You’re blowing it, Randy. This is the opportunity of a lifetime, and you’re blowing it.” Adams reconsidered.
Adams, using some of the cash he’d earned from the sale of his company, bought a Porsche 911 at the same time Jobs did. To avoid car-door dings, they parked near each other—taking up three parking spaces between them. One day Jobs rushed over to Adams’ cubicle and told him they had to move the cars.
“I said, ‘Why?,’ and he said, ‘Randy, we have to hide the Porsches. Ross Perot is coming by and thinking of investing in the company, and we don’t want him to think we have a lot of money.’” They moved the cars to the back of NeXT’s offices in Palo Alto, California, and Perot invested $20 million in the company in 1987 and took a seat on the board.
Image: Getty Images
Adams recalls the time Bill Gates showed up at NeXT for a meeting. The receptionist downstairs called Jobs, who sat upstairs, to let him know Gates was in the lobby. “I could see him sitting in his cube, not really busy. But he didn’t get up or call Gates up. He left him waiting in the lobby for an hour. That speaks to their rivalry.”
NeXT engineers, Adams said, took the opportunity to go downstairs and ply Gates with questions. “We enjoyed it and spent an hour talking to him until Steve finally called him in.”
Adams said he left NeXT after disagreeing with Jobs about the use of the optical drive in the NeXT workstation, which he felt would be too slow. Some time later Jobs convinced Adams to start a software business around NeXT, which he did with a $2 million investment from Sequoia Capital. But as the business was under way, Jobs called Adams again to let him know that NeXT was going to give up its workstation business and focus instead on software.
“He told me that the cost of hardware is coming down and we think it’s a commodity. I said, ‘Then why don’t you sell PCs?’ Jobs told me, ‘I’d rather sell dog s— than PCs.’”
Scuff marks in the mini-store
In his first public appearance after revealing he had surgery to remove a pancreatic tumour in 2004, Jobs met with reporters (including me) at the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto, to unveil a new 750-sq-ft ‘mini’ store design. Half the size of an Apple retail store, the mini featured an all-white ceiling, lit from behind; Japanese stainless steel walls, with holes around the top for ventilation that mimicked the design of the PowerMac G5; and a shiny, seamless white floor made with “material used in aircraft hangars”, Jobs said at the time.
Before the curtain draped across the storefront came down, though Jobs was having a meltdown, refusing to step outside and greet reporters. Why? Because the store design that looked so great on paper didn’t stand up to real-world use. The walls showed off every handprint and the floors had black scuff marks from the handful of people readying the store for the big reveal.
Jobs was ultimately convinced to step outside, and the curtain was drawn. When I saw the floor, I turned to Jobs, standing next to me, and asked if he had been involved in every aspect of the design. He said yes. “It was obvious that whoever designed the store had never cleaned a floor in their life,” I told him. He narrowed his eyes at me and stepped inside.
A few months later an Apple executive told me that Jobs had all the designers return to the store after it opened and spend the night on their knees cleaning the white surface. After that, Apple switched to the stone tiles now prevalent in its designs.