One thing everyone can agree on about Steve Jobs: he never failed to be interesting. From his “Reality Distortion Field” to his frequent temper tantrums, he was notorious for his outrageous behavior. Here are some of his most memorable moments of outrageousness.
Steve Jobs was a very complicated man that different people describe differently. Where some knew him as a tyrant, others remember a very personable man with a great sense of humor. He never claimed to be a saint, but the mark he left on the world changed numerous modern industries forever. His unquenchable thirst for design perfection, his powerful drive to change the world, his unique attenuation to nuances of the environment and objects around him… There’s never been anyone else like him, and likely never will be again. For whatever reason, he seemed to think that he was special and that the normal rules of behavior and etiquette didn’t apply to him.
Here are a few examples of how he stepped outside the norms of society, always defying what the world expected him to be.
The time he lied to his oldest friend, tricking him out of money he was due
Before Apple existed, before Steve Wozniak designed the Apple I computer, Steve Jobs was tasked by Atari with building a circuit board for the video game Breakout. He knew little about circuit board designs, so he asked for help from his friend Woz, offering to split the fee between them. Jobs explained that Atari needed the number of chips on the board lessened. Woz, thrilled to be working on a real video game, worked around the clock for four days straight to finish the project as fast as possible. His finished circuit board wowed Atari’s engineers by cutting down the number of chips by 50 — an astonishing achievement at the time.
The problem was, Jobs had lied to Wozniak about almost the entire project. Unknown to Woz, Atari had offered Jobs a $100 bonus for every chip he could eliminate on the circuit board. Jobs instead told his friend that Atari had offered a flat pay rate of $700, so upon its completion, Jobs paid Wozniak just $350. When truthfully, Atari had paid them $5,000, meaning Jobs had cheated his friend out of more than $2,000. He’d also imposed an artificial deadline on the project, because Jobs was planning to go out of town in four days.
The kicker is that Jobs never told Wozniak about what he’d done. It was ten years later before Woz found out the truth, and he wasn’t even told about it. He read it in a book that detailed the history of Atari. Wozniak was never angry or bitter about it, though he admits to crying after reading about it in that book. He also says that he would have given it to Jobs, if he’d told him the truth and said he needed the money. [Source 1, Source 2]
The time he refused to acknowledge paternity of his daughter
Lisa Brennan-Jobs, born in 1978, was conceived out of wedlock by Steve Jobs and Chris-Ann Brennan. But for years, Jobs refused to acknowledge paternity of his little girl, going so far as to swear in court documents that he was “sterile and infertile.” Years later, he had a change of heart and publicly acknowledged the truth of Lisa’s parentage. (He also admitted that Apple’s “Lisa” computer was named after her, though he vehemently denied it at the time.)
At least this story has a happy ending. When Lisa was a teenager, she and her father reconnected, and she got to know him for a few years while living with him and his family. Jobs paid her tuition at Harvard University, where she studied journalism. She has since been published in numerous prestigious magazines. [Source]
The time he screwed over longtime friend and Apple employee Dan Kottke
In 1981, shortly after Apple went public, the original group of employees were given stock options by Steve Jobs. But he staunchly refused to give any options to employee number twelve, his friend Dan Kottke. Kottke and Jobs first met at Reed College, where they hit it off and later traveled together to India, where they “backpacked around in search of spiritual enlightenment.”
Jobs never stated his reasons for refusing to give Kottke Apple stock options, but the situation was awkward, to say the least. Obviously there was some kind of falling out between the two men, but neither ever divulged the details. When another employee heard about Jobs’ position regarding the stock options, he approached Jobs and made him an offer. If Jobs would give some of his own stock to Kottke, so would this employee. Jobs’ curt reply underscored the finality with which he wanted this subject to drop. “Okay,” he said. “I’ll give him zero.” [Source 1, Source 2]
The time he tried to change the name of the Macintosh to the “Bicycle”
Jobs didn’t get along with Jef Raskin, who first conceived of the Macintosh project and gave it its name. So when Raskin went on an extended leave of absence, Jobs, with the help of another apple employee named Rod Holt, attempted to assert his dominance over the project by changing the name of the Macintosh. Falling back on his own quote about how computers were like “bicycles for the mind,” Jobs decreed that the Mac’s new name was Bicycle. Everyone on the Mac team was ordered to immediately begin referring to it by this new name. But the name was so silly, no one would use it, and Jobs and Holt were finally forced to give up, letting the team keep the original name.
Many years later, Jobs would encounter a similar situation before the launch of the iMac, when he almost decided to call the all-important new desktop computer the “MacMan.” Apple fans agree that in both cases, Apple side-stepped a landmine. [Source]
The time he appeared as FDR in an internal Apple promotional video
Months ago, this video came to light, in which Jobs took on the role of President Franklin Roosevelt as part of a pseudo-sequel to the infamous “1984” TV commercial. But this video, dubbed “1944,” was used only internally, as a way of “firing up the troops.” Whether or not it was a good idea is open to debate, but there’s no doubt that it’s a pretty outrageous bit of egomania, even for Steve Jobs.
The time he fired Pixar employees with no notice
Before Pixar became the hit-making studio we know it as today, there came a time when its owner, Steve Jobs, made cutbacks in order to keep the company afloat. But in typical Jobsian style, he made employee cuts instantly, decisively, refusing to offer any kind of severance pay. When a surviving Pixar employee begged Jobs to at least give the fired employees two weeks’ notice, Jobs’ response was, “Okay, but the notice is retroactive from two weeks ago.” [Source]
The time he insisted Apple Stores had to have rare Italian stone tile floors
When Apple’s retail stores were starting to catch on, Jobs remembered a particular stone sidewalk he’d encountered on a trip to Florence, Italy, and was convinced that Apple needed that same stone as floor tiles in their stores. Some Apple VPs tried to convince him to mimic the Italian stone’s color and texture with concrete, but Jobs would not be moved. It had to be authentic, high quality Pietra Serena sandstone, from Il Casone quarry in Firenuola, Italy. The tiles are extremely expensive, and the quarry hand selects each piece of stone to ensure consistent quality of shades and veins. But Jobs got what he wanted, and those Il Casone stone tiles are still used in most Apple Stores today. [Source]
The time he berated the MobileMe team
MobileMe was a disaster. It was meant to sync up your mobile devices with your primary computer, but it never worked like it was supposed to, and users hated it. After a scathing review by the Wall Street Journal‘s Walt Mossberg, Steve Jobs gathered the team responsible for MobileMe together at the Apple Campus’ “Town Hall” auditorium, where he stood on stage and berated the group for a solid half hour. He told them, “You’ve tarnished Apple’s reputation. You should hate each other for having let each other down.” Reportedly, he then fired team manager Rob Schoeben on the spot, and replaced him with Eddy Cue.
Clearly, Jobs was making an example of the MobileMe team’s failure. Not an uncommon occurrence in corporate America. The difference is that it wasn’t enough for Jobs to merely reprimand his subordinates — he had to spend half an hour emotionally demoralizing and draining them, so they would truly understand, in his eyes, the depths of their failure and his disappointment. That was an experience, I think, unique to being employed by Steve Jobs. [Source]
The time he refused traditional cancer treatment
October, 2003: Steve Jobs is diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in his pancreas. Over the next nine months, again and again he refused his doctor’s orders to undergo chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. Instead, he pursued alternative methods of fighting the cancer, including a vegan diet, acupuncture, herbal remedies, juice fasts, and more. He even consulted a psychic at one point.
Eventually, he was forced to concede that his alternative therapies weren’t generating results, and agreed to a surgical procedure to remove the pancreatic tumor. Although the surgery was a success, the cancer returned a short time later, and… well, we all know how the story ends. Physicians have since suggested that Jobs’ stubborn, senseless refusal of standard treatment was the key factor that led to his untimely death at the age of 56. Sometime after that nine month period, Jobs himself admitted that he refused standard cancer treatments because he feared the violation of his body being cut into. [Source]
The time he directed Apple personnel to lie to the media about his cancer diagnosis
You can’t be one of the most successful men in the world, and expect to take a leave of absence without questions being raised. But against all logic, this appears to be precisely what Steve Jobs was hoping for when he temporarily stepped down from his position as CEO to attend to his cancer treatment and recovery. Of course the media wanted to know the truth, and rumors about his health spread like wildfire. It didn’t help that his physical presence became increasingly emaciated over time.
Whether he feared how news of his illness might affect public perceptions of Apple, or he simply didn’t want his privacy invaded, he made the dubious choice to order his people at Apple to unequivocally deny his cancer diagnosis to the media. This strategy went on for over six months, with excuses shifting frequently from one absurd claim to another. The “official” media statements said things like, Jobs had been victim to a “common bug” and was taking antibiotics. Or there was the memo written by Jobs himself to his own employees, claiming to have been suffering from a “hormone imbalance” for several months. But near the end, when it became obvious that Jobs’ medical situation was more serious than he’d been willing to admit, Apple’s official answer to media inquiries became simply, “It’s a private matter.”
Steve Jobs’ famous Reality Distortion Field had served him so well over the course of his career, but this was one time when it failed. [Source]
The time he stormed out of a 5-star hotel
When Steve Jobs once planned a trip to London, his friend and trusted designer Jonathan Ive went to the trouble of personally handpicking a 5-star hotel for the CEO to stay at. But he’d no sooner walked into the hotel room than he called Ive on the phone, declared the place “a piece of sh*t,” and stormed out. [Source]
The time he chewed out an old woman over a smoothie
Sometime in 2005, Jobs visited a Whole Foods in California, where he ordered a fruit smoothie. When the aging barista didn’t make it to his satisfaction, he flew into a blistering tirade about her “incompetence.”
Jobs’ anger was gone almost as fast as it came on, and to his credit, he softened and offered his sympathies for having to work a thankless job at her age. [Source]
He never had a license plate on his car
Ever one to work the system to his own advantage, Jobs somehow learned of a law in California that let him skirt the issue of license plates on his car. The law states that drivers, when buying new vehicles, have a maximum of six months to receive their plates and have them affixed to the car. Call him clever or call him crazy, but Jobs intentionally exploited this loophole by leasing a new Mercedes-Benz SL every six months, thereby never at all having to put a license plate on the car he drove.
Exactly why he went to such lengths as this is unclear. Most likely, he believed it gave him a level of anonymity while driving in public. But perhaps there could have been some paranoia involved as well. [Source]
The time he engaged in an email war of words with a college student
In September of 2010, Chelsea Isaacs of Long Island University was researching Apple for a school assignment. She attempted repeatedly to get some help from Apple’s Media Relations department, but no one would answer her calls or reply to her emails. Frustrated, she sent an email to Steve Jobs himself, asking for his help. His abrupt reply to her appeal: “Our goals do not include helping you get a good grade. Sorry.”
Isaacs was furious. She defended herself and then tried again to explain her situation. They went back and forth a few more times until an exasperated Jobs sent one last reply that said simply, “Please leave us alone.” I’m guessing he regretted having replied to her at all, but this wasn’t an unusual situation. Jobs was known to occasionally reply to personal emails, seemingly on a whim. [Source]
The time he refused to wear an oxygen mask in the hospital because it was “ugly”
Near the end of his battle with cancer, hospital staff tried to put an oxygen mask over his face while he was being sedated. But even in this state, he was able to rip off the mask, muttering that he wouldn’t wear it because he hated its “ugly” design. He then ordered that he be brought five different mask options and he would pick one that he liked. That was unnecessary, though, as his wife helped to distract him enough that the staff could get the mask on him.
In addition to the mask, he also told them he hated the oxygen monitor he was forced to wear on his finger. He told the hospital staff that the small device was “ugly” and “too complex.” [Source]
Got an outrageous Steve Jobs story that’s not on this list? Sound off in the comments below.