The Steve Jobs Factor

NEW YORK – Normally, you need a distinctive first name not to need a last name, but in this – as in everything that he did – Steve Jobs was different. He was always just “Steve.”

In the personal-computing business – which moved from the bulky Apple II to the sleek and intelligent iPhone 4s (announced the day before Steve’s death) – Steve was the only true showman of what is now one of the world’s biggest industries. He inspired broad public enthusiasm for the quality of his products and his personal charisma. (Others have become “business” leaders, but only Steve became someone known and admired by millions – including the Romanian waiter at the British Airways lounge where I am sitting now.)

I first met Steve back in 1979 or 1980, at Ben Rosen's Personal Computer Forum. For some reason, it was held at the Playboy Resort in Lake Geneva (never again!). Regis McKenna, Apple’s public-relations agent for many years, set up the meeting. As I recall, the three of us sipped Diet Cokes, served by a Playboy bunny. Even then, as a world traveler who had spent serious time in India, Steve had a better sense of the world outside educated, middle-class America than most techies.

I’ll always remember his impact at PC Forum, which I later bought and ran from 1982 to 2007. He came many times in the mid-1980’s and 1990’s. The rivalry between him and almost everyone in the industry was bitter. He and Apple were considered arrogant loners; they didn’t play nicely with others. (And, yes, he was occasionally rude to me as well, when I failed to earn his approval for one reason or another. That includes my last email from him, in September 2010, where he called a particular app I had introduced to him "really...crummy.")