Edgelings

Personal Thoughts About Steve Jobs

By Rich Karlgaard

I would not have my wonderful job at Forbes if not for Steve Jobs. Thank you, Steve. Of course, the irony here is that Jobs once called up Steve Forbes and told him not to hire me. More on this in a bit.

When the Apple Macintosh came out in 1984, it opened up the arcane world of typography to the masses. Steve Jobs had fallen in love with typography while at Reed College, so the Mac’s deep menu of type fonts was really Job’s gift to the rest of us. A year or so later, Adobe’s Postscript language combined with Canon laser printers meant you could move all those cool Mac fonts onto an actual piece of paper. Thus was born the desktop publishing industry.

Back in the mid-1980s, I spent every spare dollar on the latest Macs, the best laser printers, Adobe type fonts and page layout software. My first copy of Aldus PageMaker was serial number 441.

In 1985, my friend Tony Perkins, a loan officer at Silicon Valley Bank, and I used desktop publishing to promote our new start-up–a  civic organization called the Churchill Club. We succeeded, and today the Churchill Club has 6,000 members.

In 1988, Tony sweet-talked $60,000 of seed capital from a 29-year-old venture capitalist, Tim Draper, and we started Upside magazine to cover Silicon Valley tech start-ups and venture capital. Tony did the hard work. He raised money, ran the business and met payroll. I did the fun work. I designed and edited Upside magazine on my Mac.

At Upside, I had a dream of publishing long, Playboy-style interviews with tech titans and venture capitalists. A young VC and former journalist named Mike Moritz, now a titan himself, tipped us to a real Playboy interviewer named David Sheff, who had done the best-ever interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, published weeks after Lennon’s death. Sheff had also interviewed Steve Jobs for Playboy in 1985. We contacted Sheff and, to our delight, he agreed to do Playboy-style interviews for Upside.

The first issue of Upside was published in the summer of 1989. We did not have Sheff up and running yet as our star interviewer. So, with Sheff’s permission, we printed a small excerpt from his 1985 Playboy interview with Jobs. We clearly labeled the interview as a 1985 Playboy excerpt. We told readers that future issues of Upside would include real Playboy-style interviews.

 

When Jobs got his copy of Upside, he hit the roof. He fired off a letter and accused us of making the interview up. What? We had run an excerpt from the 1985 Playboy interview. We had very clearly labeled it as such.

This put Upside in a very curious spot. We had started Upside, in part, to celebrate heroes like Steve Jobs. And now, in our first issue, we had managed tick the guy off. For reasons we never figured out.

Upside had one more bad encounter with our hero. In 1992 we published a cover story on NeXT Computer, the company started by Jobs after his departure from Apple. Ross Perot was an investor in NeXT.

The NeXT computer was a very cool looking black square box, and it had a brilliant operating system. But few software companies were writing applications for NeXT, and NeXT computers were selling poorly. By 1992 the company was failing. The gist of our story was that NeXT would have to get out of the costly hardware business and try to make it as a software company.

Jobs, of course, did not like our take. He denied that NeXT was in trouble and that it would have to exit hardware. On a Saturday, just before Upside went to press, Jobs called me at the Upside offices. It was a strange call. He alternately charmed and threatened me. He told me to check my rearview mirror. He was particularly upset that Richard Rappaport, the reporter, had unearthed two facts about Job’s life: His biological father was a Syrian national doing graduate work at Berkeley. And from the same father, Jobs had a half-sister, the acclaimed novelist Mona Simpson.

Jobs begged me to leave out the Mona Simpson information. I agreed to this. We did not publish this scoop.

The June 1992 cover story came out and won a Computer Press Award. We were right on the facts. NeXT soon exited the hardware business.

A couple of months later, Steve Forbes hired me to start Forbes ASAP, a technology magazine. Jobs got wind of this and called up Steve Forbes to complain. Strangely, Jobs did not talk about the Upside cover story. He carped about Upside‘s excerpt of the 1985 Playboy interview. Jobs still believed we had made the interview up!

Steve Jobs is an obsessed genius, and he has the odd quirks of one. His contributions to American business and cultural life are equal to that of Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Walt Disney. They, too, were obsessed geniuses.

Let us wish Steve Jobs a healthy and speedy recovery. America’s economy badly needs his quirky brilliance.