The Temperamental Tao of Steve
THE SECOND COMING OF STEVE JOBS
By Alan Deutschman
Broadway Books -- 321pp -- $26
After he co-founded Apple Computer Inc. (AAPL) in 1976, Steve Jobs's career was a roller-coaster ride, marked by soaring highs and hopeless lows, with almost nothing in between. At least that was the case until 1996--when the ride seemed to level off at a very rarefied altitude. Since that time, the filmmakers at his Pixar Animation Studios (PIXR) have turned out three smash hits that have made Jobs a billionaire. And at Apple, he seemed to have matured from an arrogant young visionary into an all-around management virtuoso--raising the company's valuation from $2 billion to more than $20 billion in the process.
But Alan Deutschman's controversial new book, The Second Coming of Steve Jobs, is a reminder that Jobs may be too complex a character to stay on a level plane for long. This is no story of redemption, focusing as it does on Jobs's explosive side--the obsession with product aesthetics over the bottom line, the sometimes vicious temper, his manipulations of press and employees. And it comes just as Jobs's roller coaster has taken a scary plunge. Since Apple announced it would badly miss its fourth-quarter sales and earnings projections on Sept. 28, investors have driven the stock down 52%. All told, some 70% of the value Jobs created has disappeared.
This book has needed little help getting attention--Jobs himself has seen to that. First, he refused to be interviewed, giving Deutschman--a Vanity Fair reporter with a reputation for writing stinging personality profiles--an opening to take his best shot. Then when Jobs called publisher Broadway Books complaining of a hatchet job, a story ended up in The New York Times, providing loads of free publicity.
So what's the truth? Well, sorry Steve, but a hatchet job it's not. It's just half the story. The book gives short shrift to Jobs's stunning successes of recent years and doesn't capture the good side of Jobs--which is as remarkable as the bad. Besides being charming, brilliant, and engaging when not threatened, he's a remarkable leader with limitless energy to make Apple succeed. When this reviewer has been working on stories on Apple, it has not been unusual for Jobs to call multiple times to make sure Apple gets the best treatment--something no other CEO I've dealt with has done. But given the author's lack of access and the CIA-like secretiveness around Apple's Cupertino headquarters these days, Deutschman had to rely on the torrent of nasty bits about Jobs that flows around Silicon Valley. Still, it's clear from Deutschman's careful writing and choice of sources that he was trying to get, as he says, both the Good Steve and the Bad Steve. Many of the named sources are people this reporter knows admire Jobs, if sometimes grudgingly. And Deutschman surely could have found enough mortal enemies to rely only on them.
This is not a comprehensive blow-by-blow of Jobs's career. There's little mention of his childhood, his creation of Apple, or his subsequent banishment. Instead, Deutschman looks to explain the many paradoxes of Jobs's psyche via everyday anecdotes--and he does this well. Take Jobs's strange relationship to money: Ever wonder how a guy who worked at Apple for $1 a year could suddenly accept an $870 million package, including a $40 million plane, from Apple's board, as happened in January? Deutschman culls clues to this behavior shift from the years spent as a young millionaire after founding Apple. First, we see Jobs--a late-blooming, 1970s hippie if there ever was one--obsess over what car to drive, so as not to seem too ostentatious. (He chose a Mercedes 240D, "the kind nobody wanted.") But not long after that, he rationalized an upgrade to a Porsche this way, writes Deutschman: "If he wanted to create the Porsche of computers, a machine that was superior in aesthetics as well as engineering, why shouldn't he spend a few minutes every day in the Porsche of automobiles?"
Deutschman's insightful, probing style makes it work. Second Coming is a very fast read, and doesn't bog down with too much business stuff. But there is material that could be cause for concern for Apple shareholders. Time and again, we see Jobs use his charisma and manipulative wiles to get what he wants--a key hire, say, or an investor--creating huge expectations that prove unrealizable. Take the story of NeXT, which dominates much of the book. He drives employees to achieve his dream of totally automated manufacturing and ends up with a hopelessly overpriced factory. And he would demand that even the circuit boards inside the computer have "a clever, visually appealing design," says Deutschman. When someone asks "Who's ever going to see the inside," Jobs shoots back, "I will." Given news that Apple's latest product, the beautiful G4 Cube computer, is off to a poor start, one has to wonder what Jobsian obsessions Apple employees have been hit with this time.
While Second Coming is a good book, it's also easy to see why Jobs hit the roof. Deutschman claims to have spoken with 100 different sources. But other than a handful of often-named people, the book is marred by an almost complete lack of attribution and comes off feeling thinly reported. In the end, it's a fast, insightful effort--as far as it goes. For all of the author's insights, Jobs remains an enigmatic, fascinating, and misunderstood character, with plenty of secrets left to reveal.By Peter Burrows; Burrows Covers Apple for Business Week.Return to top