Steve Jobs grew up in a lower-middle class suburban neighborhood in the 1960s. When he was a young adult, in the early 1970s, he delved into eastern mysticism, Zen Buddhism, and hippie ideals. Then he started Apple and became a millionaire at 23, an icon of entrepreneurialism and capitalism. It is not hard to picture how big of a shock to his values this new status must have created. In his late 20s, while he was still single, Steve Jobs was not living the life of a typical young nouveau riche.
Steve in his Los Gatos home, 1981. Photo Ted Thai
He bought a large house in Los Gatos, not far from his parents' and Apple, which he almost didn't furnish (the famous 1982 Diana Walker picture in his living room was taken in that house) He kept his peculiar food habits, staying a vegan and fasting for spa few weeks - although he sometimes allowed himself some fish and even meat once in a while. And he worked. He worked really, really hard, and spent most of his waking hours at Apple — including weekends. He didn't have many friends a the time, although he socialized quite a bit, including in New York where he purchased a luxurious apartment in the San Remo Towers. (Diane Keaton once told the story of how he tried to woo her when she was living there).
In 1984, Jobs bought the Jacking mansion in Woodside and moved in a few months later. His life remained pretty much the same, the mansion remaining unfurnished, apart from the kitchen where a young couple he had hired prepared him his vegan meals. Steve's longtime girlfriend, Tina Redse, whom he met during that year, hated staying at the empty house. She kept her house in Palo Alto, which was also a refuge when she and Steve would have one of their frequent fights. Finally, in the summer of 1989, he asked her to marry him, and she declined because it would "drive her crazy".
A few weeks later, a new woman entered the life of Steve Jobs while he was giving a talk at Stanford. "There's this beautiful woman and she's really smart and she has this dog and I'm going to marry her", he told his sister Mona over the phone that night. And he did: Laurene Powell became Mrs. Jobs on March 18, 1991.
Steve and Laurene Jobs, 1991
Steve Jobs's lifestyle changed a lot after the birth of Reed, his first child with Laurene. He took his family very seriously, and became an affectionate father. Until the end of his life, he would keep that same way of life: that of a hard-working CEO, but one who don't choose the celebrity circuit: "What's astonishing is how normal a family life it is. Steve just never went out socially. He was home every evening", wrote Jobs's biographer Walter Isaacson. Jobs himself said: "I have a very simple life. I have my family and I have Apple and Pixar. And I don't do much else."
Indeed, Steve Jobs apparently turned into a loving father and peaceful neighbor, the sighting of whom was commonplace to the residents of Palo Alto. However, in his official biography, Isaacson reveals that the relationships between Jobs and his children was not all that idyllic. Although he had a special relation with his son Reed, the same apparently cannot be said of his daughters. He often had arguments with his first daughter Lisa, his child with Chrisann Brennan; he apparently did not pay much attention to Erin, his second, quiet daughter; but he liked the strong will and temper of his youngest child, daughter Eve.
Steve, Eve, Reed, Erin and Laurene Jobs in Italy, 2003
Isaacson writes: "Jobs developed a strong relationship with Reed, but with his daughters he was more distant. As he would with others, he would occasionally focus on them, but just as often would completely ignore them when he had other things on his mind. 'He focuses on his work, and at times he has not been there for the girls,' Powell said. At one point Jobs marveled to his wife at how well their kids were turning out, 'especially since we're not always there for them.' This amused, and slightly annoyed, Powell, because she had given up her career when Reed turned two and she decided she wanted to have more children."
Apart from his wife and children, Steve Jobs's inner family circle also included his biological sister Mona Simpson. The daughter of Abdulfattah Jandali and Joanne Schieble, Mona was a brilliant writer whom Jobs discovered in 1986, after tracking down his biological parents. "My brother and I are very close," Simpson said in 1997. "I admire him enormously." Jobs said: "We're family. She's one of my best friends in the world. I call her and talk to her every couple of days." They remained friends even after Mona published her second novel A Regular Guy ,which was heavily inspired by Jobs's relationship with Lisa. In her essay Driving Jane, Lisa recounted her stupefaction at seeing her personal history described in great detail in her aunt's book. As for Jobs, he didn't read the book so as not to get mad at his sister.
Jobs also connected late in life with his biological mother Joanne Simpson (born Schieble), although they did not become very close, as he always considered Paul and Clara Jobs to be his true and only parents. He never sought to contact Abdulfattah Jandali, his biological father, because of the way he had abandoned his mother and sister when they were young. However, he revealed to biographer Isaacson that the two had met by chance in the early 1980s when Jobs frequented Jandali's restaurant in San Jose
The real deal
In his post about working with Steve Jobs, Mike Evangelist wrote: "In my dealings with him I've seen one thing vividly: Steve Jobs is the real deal. This is not some sort of act". Indeed, Steve's way of life proved that he applied the same values at home and at work.
Steve Jobs spent the last twenty years of his life in a simple country house in Palo Alto. Although the house is larger than your typical suburban house, and relatively expensive at around $4 million, it does not stand out in the wealthy city of Palo Alto, and is a testament to Jobs's modest lifestyle. Despite his net worth of over $8 billion, his garden had no walls and he did not even lock the front door.
Steve, Reed and Laurene in Palo Alto
Time reporters Cathy Booth and David Jackson had a glimpse of the life at the Jobses in 1997. They wrote: "Laurene has planted a garden of wildflowers, herbs and vegetables all around. The rooms are sparsely decorated, the only extravagances being Ansel Adams photographs. We dine as the Jobses always do: both are strict vegans, eating no meat products. Dinner is pasta with raw tomatoes, fresh raw corn from the garden, steamed cauliflower and a salad of raw shredded carrots. While the adults eat, their six-year-old son picks lemon verbena and other herbs in the garden for the after-dinner tea. His reward is a tickle and being tucked into bed by Dad. Conversation is a mix of politics, Laurene's work setting up a mentor group for a nearby high school and tales of a presidential visit last summer when Bill Clinton rang up and invited himself to dinner so he could meet with Silicon Valley executives. "We had to rent a Dumpster to clean out the house before they came!" says Jobs, whose prenuptial housing style was "spare," if that's the term for lacking furniture. The couple giggle over their search for cheap wine glasses to serve the President. The menu was, naturally, vegan. Grabbing a couple of bottles of mineral water from the fridge, the two took off for a stroll around Palo Alto. Jobs was barefoot."
Life at the Jobses did have some peculiarities: the strict vegan meals; the absence of TV for the kids, lest it stifle their creativity; and the occasional dinner with Bill Clinton or Rupert Murdoch. But overall they had a very quiet, typical life similar to millions of couples in America.
Besides his simplicity, Steve Jobs was also a great perfectionist in his personal choices, not only at work. His sister Mona explained at a memorial event held in his honor that "They once embarked on a kitchen remodel; it took years. They cooked on a hotplate in the garage. The Pixar building, under construction during the same period, finished in half the time. And that was it for the Palo Alto house. The bathrooms stayed old." Jobs himself explained how he had spent several weeks debating which washing machine to buy with his family. Most people speculate this is why his furnishing habits were so spare: it was because he wouldn't buy anything short of perfect — and perfect was a rare thing to buy.
Jobs, who was also 'strictly business' at work, suffered no waste of time. In one interview, he explained that it was why he wore the same thing everyday, his famous black mock turtleneck: so he didn't have to waste time picking what to wear every morning. There are several explanations as to how he ended up wearing so many turtlenecks. In the biography Steve Jobs, Isaacson recalls Jobs explaining, "So I asked Issey [Miyake] to make me some of his black turtlenecks that I liked, and he made me like a hundred of them. […] That's what I wear. I have enough to last for the rest of my life." John Lasseter remembered a slightly different story: "He found this one really great black turtleneck which he loved – I think it was Issey Miyake – so tried to buy another one and they didn't have any more. He called the company and asked if they would make another one, and they refused. So he said: 'Fine, how many do you have to make before I can buy them?' So they made them – I think he has a closet full of them.'"
A Joy of Tech comic on Steve Jobs's clothing habits
Steve Jobs didn't vote when he was young, as he professed in an interview with Playboy. After he left Apple in 1985, he caressed the idea of a career in politics, which was suggested to him by his friend and fellow Los Altos Zen Center adept, California governor Jerry Brown. But his mentor PR man Regis McKenna explained to him it wouldn't be that easy: Steve Jobs was risking public exposure for his private life, including its darkest sides, such as abandoning his daughter or taking LSD in college. Jobs gave up the idea and eventually founded NeXT.
As he grew older, Jobs became a supporter of the Democratic Party. He was friendly with President Clinton, whom he entertained at his house with Hillary while in office, and he invited Al Gore to join Apple's board in 2003. Although Steve didn't donate to the Democrats in his name, his wife Laurene contributed to each campaign to the fullest amount possible for an individual.
However, Steve Jobs was not a liberal on every subject. In 2011, as his health declined severely, he still accepted to attend a dinner with President Obama on February 17. He was blunt: "You're headed for a one-term presidency," he told the president, according to Steve Jobs. "To prevent that, he said, the administration needed to be a lot more business-friendly. He described how easy it was to build a factory in China, and said that it was almost impossible to do so these days in America, largely because of regulations and unnecessary costs."
Steve Jobs and President Obama, February 2011
Jobs also had firm beliefs regarding public education. He voiced his point of view on several occasion, including an extensive interview with Computerworld in 1995 and a press conference in Texas in 2007. Steve thought the worst evil of public education were the 'corrupt' unions of teachers, which he denounced for blocking reform, and called "off-the-charts crazy". He advocated that "principals should be able to hire and fire teachers based on how good they were" and that "schools should be staying open until at least 6 p.m. and be in session eleven months of the year". He also often called for the digitalization of notebooks, a dream he caressed toward the end of his life, and that Apple made true in January 2012 with iBooks Author and iTunes U.
On a more spiritual note, Steve Jobs did not have any religion, although he was an adept of Zen Buddhism. In the late 1970s, he attended meditation sessions and primal scream therapies at the Los Altos Zen center. The center was led by Otogawa Kobun Chino, a soto Zen monk. Jobs later adopted Otogawa as his teacher, and hired him as 'spiritual advisor' for NeXT, then to celebrate his wedding with Laurene in 1991. The comic The Zen of Steve Jobs describes their relationship.
Kobun Chino presided over Steve's wedding in March 1991
Regarding God and life after death, he explained his beliefs to Walter Isaacson late in his life: "He talked about his experiences in India almost four decades earlier, his study of Buddhism, and his views on reincarnation and spiritual transcendence. 'I'm about fifty-fifty on believing in God,' he said. 'For most of my life, I've felt that there must be more to our existence than meets the eye.' He admitted that, as he faced death, he might be overestimating the odds out of a desire to believe in an afterlife. 'I like to think that something survives after you die,' he said. 'It's strange to think that you accumulate all this experience, and maybe a little wisdom, and it just goes away. So I really want to believe that something survives, that maybe your consciousness endures.' He fell silent for a very long time. 'But on the other hand, perhaps it's like an on-off switch,' he said. 'Click! And you're gone.'"
Steve Jobs & Food
Yet Steve Jobs's strongest beliefs were not political nor religious: they concerned food and health. When he was at Reed College, he had been greatly impressed by the book Mucusless Diet Healing System by Arnold Ehret. Ehret was an early-20th century nutritionist who professed eating nothing but fruits and starchless vegetables to protect the body from the formation of mucus, which he considered the root of all diseases. Fasting was also recommended as a the most efficient way of cleansing the body from mucus. At age 18-19, Jobs never quit berating his friends about mucusless diets — and he held strongly to his beliefs throughout his life, even after he was diagnosed with cancer.
After a whole year as a fruitarian, cultivating apples at a hippie commune, Jobs switched to a vegan diet, which he kept his whole life — with the exception of Japanese food. He used to love suhi and soba, and reportedly even created the original "sashimi shoba", to be served at Apple's cafeteria. Some of his favorite restaurants included Jinshō, Cagiest and Sushi Ran. (According to Nippon.com, "if he couldn't get a reservation at Keigetsu, a restaurant that refuses to give celebrities special treatment, he would order takeaway sushi and drive down to pick it up himself. His favorite toppings were fatty tuna, salmon, yellowtail, ocean trout, sea bream, mackerel, and saltwater eel"). He was also a regular at the Fraiche yoghurt cafe in Palo Alto, and the local Whole Foods where he would go pick up whole wheat bread and vegetables, often barefoot. But the Jobses also cultivated their own vegetables and fruits in the large garden that Laurene had set up. Their meals often consisted of "just one vegetable. Lots of that one vegetable. But one. Broccoli. In season. Simply prepared. With just the right, recently snipped, herb", as Mona Simpson recalled. As for drinks, Steve would often profess his love of Odwalla juices (including their twist-off cap), and be seen with one or more bottles of Smart Water. He never drank alcohol besides the occasional glass of wine.
After Steve was diagnosed with cancer in October 2003, he spent nine months in denial of his need for surgery. True to the teachings of Ehret, who died at 56 after knocking his head and falling, he experimented with fasting and eating only fruits and roots, hoping to cure the cancer without medical treatments. He only relented in June 2004, after much lobbying from his family and friends, including cancer survivor Andy Grove ("Steve talked to me when he was trying to cure himself by eating horseshit and horseshit roots, and I told him he was crazy) and Genentech CEO Art Levinson (who said that he "pleaded every day" with Jobs and found it "enormously frustrating that [he] just couldn't connect with him.", according to Steve Jobs).
This obsessive attitude continued in 2008-2011, after the recurrence of Steve's cancer. He became thinner everyday, and despite being repeatedly told he had to eat protein, he kept on fasting and often refused to eat anything. In Steve Jobs, Laurene recalls that difficult period in their marriage: "Powell kept telling him that it was crazy […] and she would get angry when he came to the table and just stared silently at his lap. 'I wanted him to force himself to eat,' she said, 'and it was incredibly tense at home.' Bryar Brown, their part-time cook, would still come in the afternoon and make an array of healthy dishes, but Jobs would touch his tongue to one or two dishes and then dismiss them all as inedible". Although it is hard to diagnose, it is possible that Steve's stubborn attitude toward food was one of the causes of the reemergence of his cancer.
Steve Jobs & Money
Steve Jobs used to say: "I was worth about over a million dollars when I was 23 and over ten million dollars when I was 24, and over a hundred million dollars when I was 25 and… it wasn't that important — because I never did it for the money". The truth is that although he never spent his money lavishly, Jobs often used it politically in the course of his career.
Steve gets off his jet
Steve's sister Mona Simpson said during her eulogy "This is not to say that [Steve] didn't enjoy his success: he enjoyed his success a lot, just minus a few zeros. He told me how much he loved going to the Palo Alto bike store and gleefully realizing he could afford to buy the best bike there. And he did." There was a little more to that. Steve received a private jet (a Gulfstream V) as a gift from the Apple board in 2000, which he used to take his family to Kona Village in Hawaii almost every year. He bought a new model of the same car every 6 months (a Mercedes SL55 AMG in his later years), so he wouldn't have the legal obligation to get a license plate — and he was a reckless driver to boot. And in 2010-2011, he spent a considerable of time designing a yacht with a glass deck, which he hoped to use to take his family on vacation, and to eventually retire. Yet all these millionaire perks where nothing compared to what he could afford with his $8.3 billion dollar net worth (in 2011)… compare and contrast with his good friend Larry Ellison, multi-billionaire co-founder of Oracle.
However, Steve's relationship with money was a bit odd. When Apple went public in 1980, he refused to give away stock and preferred to keep as much as possible to himself. When Woz asked him to give stock to Dan Kottke, the college friend that traveled with him to India and helped him out in the garage, Steve replied: "Fine. I'll give him zero." The same happened fifteen years later, during the Pixar IPO. Steve made sure that he, Ed Catmull and John Lasseter got plenty of stock, but all the employees who had stuck with the company for many years, despite its failures, were hardly compensated at all. In fact, Steve had taken back their stock in 1991, when he created a new company where he was the sole owner in exchange for another line of credit from his personal money. When he came back to Apple, he insisted to have a $1 salary and kept him for his 14 years there, but he got generously compensated with stock and options. He actually even asked for more options in 2001, a SEC investigation revealed: "It wasn't so much about the money," he told an SEC lawyer. "Everybody likes to be recognized by his peers. … I felt that the board wasn't really doing the same with me. I just felt like there is nobody looking out for me here, you know… So I wanted them to do something, and so we talked about it. … I thought I was doing a pretty good job."The board approved an option on 7.5 million shares.
A 2003 Fortune cover story that infuriated Jobs
Some suggest it was a political use of stock and had nothing to do with their value. This is the same rationale that made Steve sell all but one of his Apple stock back in 1985, after he left the company, even though it made little business sense.
After Jobs's death, a controversy arose again about his lack of any philanthropic initiatives. The refrain goes that Jobs never gave money to philanthropy, and that after shutting down Apple's philanthropic arm in 1997, when the company was in dire straits, he never reinstated it later. He wouldn't talk about it to his biographer Walter Isaacson either. The truth is that he made donations to a couple of institutions, including the Stanford Hospital, and that he was a big help in the (RED) campaign by creating a red iPod. However, he did not spend his time picking up charities, feeling he served a better cause by working for Apple and creating money that his shareholders could distribute. He actually started a foundation in 1986, but closed it after 15 months, as he spent all his time at NeXT.
Cracking down the mystery of Steve
The personality of Steve Jobs remains a mystery to many, including myself who have been studying for over a decade. The most difficult thing to understand was why he kept berating people around him, including those he loved, even though he was very emotional. His soulmate Jony Ive complained about it to Walter Isaacson: "He's a very, very sensitive guy. That's one of the things that makes his antisocial behavior, his rudeness, so unconscionable. I can understand why people who are thick-skinned and unfeeling can be rude, but not sensitive people. I once asked him why he gets so mad about stuff. He said, “But I don't stay mad.” He has this very childish ability to get really worked up about something, and it doesn't stay with him at all. But there are other times, I think honestly, when he's very frustrated, and his way to achieve catharsis is to hurt somebody. And I think he feels he has a liberty and a license to do that. The normal rules of social engagement, he feels, don't apply to him. Because of how very sensitive he is, he knows exactly how to efficiently and effectively hurt someone. And he does do that."
A couple of articles have been written stating that he was a "productive narcissist". In the Sunday Times in 2009, psychiatrist Michael Maccoby noted "The very striking thing about productive narcissists, particularly men, is that they grow up in families where there is an absent or weak father figure. You can see this in narcissistic presidents like Obama, Clinton, Reagan and Nixon. They struggle with their identity and view of the world. So they tend to come up with a very original view of things and are then driven to find followers."
However, the Steve Jobs bio reveals that Tina Redse, Steve's longtime girlfriend from the 1980s, had a different point of view: "She happened to read in a psychiatric manual about Narcissistic Personality Disorder and decided that Jobs perfectly met the criteria. 'It fits so well and explained so much of what we had struggled with, that I realized expecting him to be nicer or less self-centered was like expecting a blind man to see,' she said. 'It also explained some of the choices he'd made about his daughter Lisa at that time. I think the issue is empathy—the capacity for empathy is lacking.'"
After reading this series of articles about Narcissistic Personality Disorder, I think she may have a point. This list of typical personality traits was particularly convincing to me, as it includes: unusual eating habits, strange work habits, being self-contradictory, hyper-sensitivity to criticism, being critical of others, amoral and cruel, stinginess and being a disappointing gift-giver, felling entitled and competitive, secretiveness, being flirtatious, seductive and impulsive, and having a weird sense of time. All these traits were typical Jobs. Some traits do not fit his personality though, such as the lack of sense of humor, the difficulty to have a good time with, religiousness, or passiveness and pessimism.