News Column

'Steve Jobs Was One of a Kind': Author

Oct. 21, 2011

Andrew Wineke

To Jay Elliot, Steve Jobs wasn't a boss, he was a partner and a role model. The former Apple Inc. vice president and author of "The Steve Jobs Way: iLeadership for a New Generation" was in Colorado Springs Thursday speaking to local students about Apple's visionary leader and the future of technology at the X-ray sensor firm dpiX as part of the Colorado Springs Cool Science Festival.

Jobs, who died Oct. 5 at age 56 after a long battle with cancer, was younger than Elliot, who is now 70, and the age gap was even more apparent when they met by happenstance at a restaurant in 1980.

Apple had just gone public and Jobs was little more than a shaggy kid to Elliot, already a veteran of IBM and Intel at that point. Elliot said he hadn't heard of either Jobs or his company, but they got to talking about computers and Jobs' vision and passion became clear.

"I was sitting in this restaurant, waiting for my wife and this scruffy kid comes up," Elliot said. "I was so caught up in his energy, this passion he had."

A job offer from Jobs soon followed and Elliot served as Apple's senior vice president of operations from 1980 to 1986, a tumultuous time that culminated with Jobs, the company's co-founder, being forced out in 1985.

Elliot worked with Jobs on developing the first Macintosh and defended him when CEO John Sculley elbowed him out in 1985, but the two met only occasionally in the years since, as Jobs founded NeXT computers, bought Pixar animation, then returned to rescue a struggling Apple in 1996.

During his time in the wilderness, Jobs learned who he really was, Elliot said. He had always wanted better design and more user-friendly products, Elliot said, but he returned to Apple determined to focus solely on making the best products possible.

"I called Steve the ultimate consumer," Elliot said. "He loved products. When he was building products, he was building them for himself."

Jobs also learned how to take charge of a company and when to reach out for help, in the form of components or technology, Elliot said.

Elliot said he last spoke with Jobs five years ago at the Macworld Expo, when they talked about Apple's digital hub strategy that has been the key to much of the company's success.

He was driving when he heard the news of Jobs' death, Elliot said, and broke down crying during a radio interview, then had his teenage son drive them home.

There has been a lot of talk in the weeks since Jobs' death who the "next Steve Jobs" will be. Elliot likens Jobs to Henry Ford and Walt Disney. He doesn't expect to see his equal anytime soon.

"I think Steve was one of a kind," he said.

Despite that, Elliot said business leaders can learn from Jobs' example. He holds himself up as an example: Since leaving Apple, Elliot has always run his own companies, including a television production company and, most recently, the software company Nuvel, which produces a data transfer accelerator and, naturally, a number of iPhone apps.

"You can learn some of it," Elliot said of the qualities that made Jobs a success. "You can learn his passion."

"It's not about process. It's not about administration. It's about the product," he said.

As for Apple itself, Elliot is hopeful new CEO Tim Cook and the other leaders will be able to carry on Jobs' legacy and vision.

"(Cook) is an incredible logistics guy," Elliot said. "That's a huge plus with Tim."

Elliot said he doesn't know if Jobs read his book, which came out earlier this year. However, he said, "The Steve Jobs Way" did become the number one business book for the iPad.

Source: (c)2011 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.) Distributed by MCT Information Services