By Todd Bernhard on Fri, 12/19/2008
Now that the dust has settled and it's clear that thousands of Apple fans will be deprived of attending a Steve Jobs keynote at Macworld. I thought I'd reflect on the first time I attended one of his talks.
It was in the mid-1980's, after Jobs had been unceremoniously ousted from the very company he started, and around the time he launched his next venture, appropriately named NeXT. He came to my university, Carnegie Mellon, to research some technology (MachOS) the school had developed which would become the core of his NeXT computer.
He was addressing a small crowd, in the student union, or perhaps I should say a large crowd in a small place. Everyone there knew they were in for a treat and it's to his credit that over 20 years later, I can still remember the following details.
I remember Steve was wearing a leather jacket. I noticed how nice it was. It was an Avirex bomber jacket like Tom Cruise wore in Top Gun but without all of the patches. I remember he took it off, and casually threw it to a chair. It fell off the chair. A student rushed to pick it up and Steve said "It's okay. Leave it." It was a nice jacket, but he had more important things to talk about and wanted to get right into it.
He began demonstrating CD-ROMs and how we could do amazing things with them. Remember this was in the days of floppy disks. He took the Beatles' Revolution Number 9 and played it backwards using the computer! He was a fan of the Beatles and despite the legal wrangling between Apple Computer and Apple Records (the label of the Beatles), I cannot believe that, to this day, Apple still doesn't offer the Beatles on iTunes, but that's a blog for another day.
I remember thinking how I wanted to work for him when I graduated in 1988. But NeXT was very small, and I ended up following another charismatic leader, Scott McNealy. I became employee # 6994 at 6-year-old Sun Microsystems in the Silicon Valley.
My point is, charismatic leadership is important, for employees, customers, and in my case, recruiting. The absence of Steve Jobs at Macworld, and perhaps at Apple someday, will be felt beyond the day-to-day decisions that any CEO must make.
Because of Steve Jobs the CEO, over the years, I've purchased a lot of Apple equipment. But because of Steve Jobs the leader, I have also purchased several Avirex jackets.