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Jobs and his celebrity: A love-hate relationship
Unfathomable, uncanny, otherworldly _ such adjectives have frequently been used to describe Jobs. But there’s another side to it all. Can being a celebrity be detrimental to one’s performance as a CEO?
“It’s a huge problem when the boss becomes the brand,” Sonnenfeld says. “The upside is, it gives the brand human terms. The downside is that none of us are immortal. These branded bosses often start to believe in their own immortality.”
On the other hand, one could argue that no rules or generalizations apply to Jobs and Apple. Sutton, at Stanford, wrote years ago that there was evidence that the more famous CEOs were distracted by all that public scrutiny, to the detriment of their companies. But, he says, “Jobs clearly doesn’t fit into that category.”
Compounding Jobs’ fame was the early age at which he achieved it. He spent virtually his entire career in the public eye, co-founding Apple at age 21. His first magazine cover came just five years later, at 26, on Inc. magazine, with the headline: “This man has changed business forever.” Four months later he was on the cover of Time.
One of the covers he wanted most, though, was one he didn’t get. A front-runner for Time’s 1982 Man of the Year, Jobs instead lost out to a machine _ the computer. An accompanying article about him included descriptions of him as a sometimes fearsome boss, and the fact that he had a daughter, Lisa, by a former girlfriend, whom he had not acknowledged and was not supporting. (He later acknowledged Lisa, and she became part of his family.)
“Steve was incensed,” says Deutschman, the author, who also teaches journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno. “Ever since then he has been extremely controlling of everything _ except for small, handfed amounts of carefully managed information.”
Of course, that only led to huge curiosity about Jobs, compounding his fame. “He wasn’t flaunting it like Donald Trump,” says Scott Galloway, a professor of marketing at the NYU Stern School. “He didn’t do Architectural Digest. Do you even know what his wife looks like?” Indeed, Laurene Powell Jobs, whom Steve married in 1991, was rarely photographed with him.
Yet Jobs also showed early on how he enjoyed his fame.
At the 1999 Macworld Expo, he was the star of the show, coming out in his trademark black mock turtle, jeans and sneakers, hands clasped together as if in prayer, giving a pep talk about “the resurgence of Apple.” But actually it wasn’t Jobs at all _ it was actor Noah Wyle, of “ER” fame, who had played Jobs in the HBO movie “Pirates of Silicon Valley.”
Then the real Jobs, who had asked Wyle to make the appearance, came onstage, jokingly telling the actor his imitation was all wrong, all to the delight of the crowd. It ended with Jobs asking Wyle for a part on “ER.”
As a celebrity himself, Jobs had easy access to other celebrities. Before his marriage, he was said to have dated Joan Baez, and, at one point, Diane Keaton.
Yet there were times that Jobs did appear to eschew his fame. Deutschman describes an incident where Jobs was helping a woman who had fallen on the street in Palo Alto, Calif., not far from Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino. Her reaction: “Oh my God, it’s Steve Jobs!” Deutschman says the incident left Jobs deeply upset.
However Jobs may have felt about his fame, there’s no question that one key element of it was his struggle with _ and triumph over _ adversity.
It was a truly American story in many ways: First, achieving success despite humble beginnings. Then failure _ getting pushed out of his own company. And finally, a return to grace, first at Pixar, then by returning to Apple for a string of huge successes that continue to this day.
“Our heroes are only truly heroic if they suffer crushing defeat _ then come back from it,” Sonnenfeld says. And again, the comparisons to Edison, Ford, Disney apply: Each suffered failures before their ultimate triumphs.
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