Mr Jobs’s own professional “near- death” experience helped him learn new skills that enabled him to become probably the most visionary innovator of his time, according to a new book by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli, two business journalists who have long covered America’s tech industry. After Mr Jobs’s explosive temper and meddling ways had led to his expulsion from the company, he spent years working in the wilderness, away from the spotlight. He tried to build a new computer company, NeXT, and he turned Pixar, an animation firm he bought from George Lucas, creator of “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones”, into a viable business. For years he seemed to fail at both. Messrs Schlender and Tetzeli argue that these experiences helped Jobs become more patient and appreciative of the creative process, enabling him to save Apple from near bankruptcy when he returned.
“Becoming Steve Jobs” is much lighter than the sombre, more dramatic score penned in 2011 by Walter Isaacson. Jobs’s official biographer wrote that for years Jobs had refused to acknowledge a daughter born out of wedlock, and all his life he seemed to delight in making pointed attacks on employees and friends. Apple’s co-founder, who died in October 2011 just a few weeks before Mr Isaacson’s “Steve Jobs” was published, of course cannot say what he thought of it. But his friends are now clearly trying to spiff up his legacy. Tim Cook, the current boss of Apple, tells Messrs Schlender and Tetzeli that Jobs was far more sensitive than outsiders understand. Apple has given “Becoming Steve Jobs” a de facto endorsement; an Apple store in New York recently hosted a book launch for the authors.
Jobs is said to have matured beyond some of his most bombastic ways. The argument that he evolved as a businessman is more convincing than his transformation as a communicator and moral actor. Much of his success after his return to Apple came not just from embracing virtues such as patience and appreciation of the creative process, but striking hard bargains and knowing how to manipulate opponents as well as friends. As much as the authors try to insist on Jobs’s psychological metamorphosis, many of the quotes and anecdotes they use undermine their analysis. One executive describes Apple’s executive team as so unified because “we had a common enemy” in Jobs.
Apple’s saviour was a master of marketing and the media. One of the book’s most salient, original themes is Jobs’s singular focus, even during his gloomiest periods, on promotion and storytelling. Much of the book is based on reporting by Mr Schlender, who knew Jobs for 25 years and had a quasi-friendship with him. However, it makes clear that Jobs rarely put his agenda aside. He was in touch with Mr Schlender sporadically over the decades, mostly when he needed something, whether a story on Pixar or an attempt to influence coverage of Apple from the sidelines during his period of exile. He was such a perfectionist that he even took great interest in the photographs that would appear alongside the journalism he wanted to help craft.
Jobs was not unlike Winston Churchill, the British prime minister judged by many to have been a failure before he made a comeback and secured his legacy by defeating Hitler. By any measure, Jobs has been proven extraordinary, both in his hard-charging personality and his impact on personal computing, music and retail. Any aspiring entrepreneur will enjoy the fact that many of his greatest accomplishments, from the growth of Pixar to his successful re-entry at Apple, were helped not just by luck and a certain Midas touch, but also by good timing and relentless hard work. That Apple’s co-founder was able to smooth out a prickly personality makes his rise all the more noteworthy. “Becoming Steve Jobs” does not absolve the protagonist of his foibles, but shows that his accomplishments were.