I first encountered Steve Jobs in front of the Company Store, outside the main entrance to 1 Infinite Loop. It was July 2001, and I was a 23-year-old skate punk from New York who had been at Apple for all of six weeks.
He almost ran me over.
As I walked back from the campus fitness center, a silver Mercedes S-Class launched a wheel onto the sidewalk and nearly took me out. I whipped around and threw a dirty look at the driver. The door opened, and the driver spat an expletive at the curb as he exited. I recognized the face immediately.
It’s him, I thought. Oh God, he’s pissed.
As a college student, I’d read all the stories about Steve Jobs: his high standards; his short temper; his not-so-great parking skills. And now here I was, standing between him and his building.
I kept walking. DO NOT ENGAGE, I thought. DO NOT MAKE EYE CONTACT. But I couldn’t help myself. He kept walking briskly behind me, staring at the ground, visibly irritated about his car and whatever made him come into the office. After I looked back for the third or fourth time, he cracked a smile that said, This kid doesn’t even have the balls to talk to me.
It was a week before Macworld New York. I took a deep breath and spoke.
“Ready for the show?”
He looked up and smiled for real. “Yeah, we’ve got a lot of great stuff. It’s going to be fun.”
“Well, I grew up in New York. Say hi for me.”
Another smile. “OK.”
He walked past me and held the IL1 lobby door open. Steve Jobs. Holding the door for me. What?
That moment changed my life, and other former and current employees surely have moments like it. Whatever Steve was upset about that day was almost certainly more serious than anything I have faced in my career. Yet he still had the good sense to give me a smile and an act of courtesy. It taught me to never lose perspective and never forget who you’re dealing with, no matter what else is going on.
For the next eight years I made a point of saying “Hi” to Steve every time I saw him. When he surfaced in the cafeteria during one of his medical leaves, I said, “It’s good to see you, Steve.” I was no longer afraid. Steve knew that his people were his company. And while he made us work hard, never settle, never accept mediocrity, he also made us feel like people. Like we were as much a part of Apple’s success as he was.
This is the Steve few people know or write about. And now it’s the Steve nobody will ever know.
I thank him for holding the door and walk in. The second set of doors is protected by employee badge sensors. Steve is behind me now. I press my badge to the door and open it. For a split second, the smartass in me considers asking to see his badge. I think better of it and return the favor he just did me.
“Thanks.” he says. “See ya.”
See ya, Steve. Thanks for everything.