I met Steve Jobs about 20 years ago when a Silicon Valley headhunter called me regarding a job opportunity at NeXT, the new computer company Jobs had founded after he left Apple in the '80s. NeXT was growing and Jobs wanted to hire a director of executive development. Needless to say, I was intrigued and excited by the possibility of working with the living legend.
The interview process took many weeks. I made frequent trips to Redwood City to run the gantlet of interviews with NeXT managers and executives, any one of whom could have vetoed me. Each time I passed muster, I proceeded to the next round of interviews. The lengthy selection process was a roller coaster adventure, with more than the usual highs and lows of job interviewing. The process even included an audition: I was required to teach a management seminar for Jobs and his entire executive team (no pressure).
A couple weeks after the seminar, I was invited back for a final, one-on-one interview with Jobs. We talked about his vision for NeXT, his thoughts about leadership and building a successful company, his insights into his competitors. He asked me many questions and I had a chance to ask him a few, as well. Interested in getting the measure of the man, I included personal questions along with queries about the position and the company.
"How do you want to be remembered when you die?" I asked.
"I don't care if anybody remembers me," he sniffed dismissively.
Huh! I wasn't expecting that answer. After hesitating for a second, I tried a different tack. "OK, then, what do you want the people who love you to remember about you?"
Now it was Jobs' turn to hesitate. He thought for a couple seconds, then replied, "I want them to remember me as the best dad in the world."
Until then, I had admired and respected Steve Jobs... but now I loved him. I loved his humanity; I loved his commitment to his kids, present and future. And I loved his willingness to be open and intimate, if only for a brief moment.
I didn't get the gig at NeXT ... but I did get the opportunity to compete, test my skills, and see how I measured up against the other candidate. I gave it my best shot and came away happy far having come "this close" to working for Jobs.
Some months after my Great NeXT Adventure, I left my corporate management job to become a successful consultant, author and speaker. Jobs made his way back to Apple and ultimately bought NeXT. We both lived happily ever after - just not together.
I've never met Jobs' kids, so I don't know whether or not he is the best dad in the world. But as the father of the Mac, iMac, iPod, iTunes, iPhone, iPad, and many more hi-tech offspring, he's definitely the coolest.
Happy Father's Day, Steve Jobs!
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