Reflections on Steve Jobs

Since hearing about Steve Jobs passing away yesterday, I keep finding my thoughts going from the here and now to re-evaluating and remembering my own life and journey over the same years that he built his career.

Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and I are all the same age. I always thought that was kind of cool, and wondered about the 1955 birth year as magic in the tech world. (It occurs so much that Malcolm Gladwell devoted a chunk of his book Outliers to it.) Although I am obviously not a tech titan, the fact we are the same age means my career journey directly tracks to their work – unfolding as each new product changes everything.

Early Apple California

Back in the late 70’s and early 80’s I worked for Shasta Beverages in California. The company headquarter offices in Hayward were close enough to the tech communities up there that we had a bunch of people moving in and out of our company from Atari, the big game maker at the time. The team in our office tracked Jobs pretty closely in those days for all the cool stuff being invented up there.

I remember we cobbled together an old TV and an Atari game to somehow generate spreadsheets. Our finance guy parked the TV on his credenza and endured all kinds of abuse from the visiting headquarters folks about slacking off in the region office. We kept quiet on the spreadsheet thing – it freed us from relying on my trusty Victor desktop calculator to project financials for our profit centers. With the Atari, we could actually create  “what if” scenarios of the ideal marketing mix of products and promotions. For eleven profit centers to manage, that was no small deal. (I loved that Victor, and wish I still had it. Best calculator ever.)

Later, we got ahold of an Apple IIe for the plant and thought we’d gone to heaven. But the company had strict policies about stand alone computing in field offices, so we’d have to ditch the Atari & the Apple in the stationary closet and lock it up when headquarter visitors came to our offices.

In 1984, we got wind of the new Apple campus evolving and that Steve put a grand piano in the lobby. If that wasn’t cool enough (and way, way different from our soft drink culture), it was a Bosendorfer piano. I knew about Steinway, which was the coolest, most beautiful piano I’d ever seen, but this thing was off the charts, and enormously expensive. And oh so beautiful. Which, of course, was the point.

Soft drink leaders should not run tech companies

Somewhere along the line, soft drink people got into CEO tech jobs & failed. Steve recruited John Sculley from Pepsi & we all know how that turned out. Adam Osborne (Osborne Computing) recruited a Shasta alum, Bob Jaunich II to run his company. That ended badly as well – although it is often attributed to bad timing of publicizing a new release. (Which caused retailers to return their now “outdated” inventories.)


I looked up to the Valley and wondered now and again if maybe I should go take a look and switch over from CPG to tech. Ultimately I stayed in packaged goods and carved out my own space of thinking different and upending some previous ways of doing business in my own right. I loved the challenge and data diving to get to new places by understanding the underpinnings – pushing the tech envelope along the way.

Put a dent in the universe

Steve Jobs was well known for wanting to “put a dent in the universe”, not compromising on his dreams and evaluating each day in the face and measure of death. And his death has caused me to re-evaluate where I am in my space of the universe. To re-consider and check my own journey.

And with Steve’s passing, I wonder again. His “rebel” and “counter culture” persona parallels my time in the 70s, like many. His love of design and beauty and better and different brought so much soul to Apple and what computers and software can do. He and his teams made the tools for the rest of us to fly.

I’m grateful he followed his dreams and intellect and spirit. And I think of his family, and mourn for them as well.

RIP Steve Jobs.

Thank you for following your dreams.

-Published October 6th, 2011

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