Actually, I’d met Steve Jobs a couple of times before he made me cry. But I was always the summoned audience. As the editor of PC Magazine in the early 90’s I was his audience as he lifted back the cloth on the Lisa, the Macintosh, and the NeXtcube (the absurdly expensive but lavish PC he helped developed after he’d left Apple for the first time).
Drop dead handsome, self-assured, and smooth talking, I remember turning to my editor as we left the NYC hotel where Jobs toured us through the NeXtcube saying, “That man could sell me the Brooklyn Bridge.” We were contemporaries, Steve and I. I was building magazines and he was building machines that would change the course of history. I felt a kinship.
The admiration society ran one way. Fast forward to 2001, Steve was back at Apple and I was in a tight spot. In 1994 I’d left the comfort of PC Magazine to start a new magazine called FamilyPC. Families were starting to raise their children on computers and I saw myself as a sort of the Martha Stewart of Geekdom, bringing the joys of creative computing to families everywhere.
During the FamilyPC years, I dutifully had families provide hands-on reviews of a cavalcade of new Macs, iMacs, and new iOs. My readers bought Macs by the thousands, praising great graphics and ease of use.
But Apple had never advertised in my magazine. As the PC industry started to consolidate the magazine’s ad dollars were shrinking. Determined to convince Steve that the magazine was worthy of his ad support I embarked on a “save the magazine” road trip.
Steve Jobs was on the calendar for a one-on-one meeting. I was pretty excited about showing him something that our team made to help readers understand more deeply what his team made. A match made in heaven. An easy sell. “His marketing staff was probably young, had no kids and didn’t see the potential of my audience. I’d fix that.
I don’t recall much about the visit except for the sting. I was ushered into his office, where he had his back to us and then spun around. I sat down at a large table, taking care to sit closer rather than at the other end of the table.
He stared, possibly past me, and said nothing. I stammered and said that I’d been working very hard to create a magazine for families that would capture passion and excitement of the dawning of the computer age. I began to explain how we used a testing lab that relied on real feedback from real families as well as taught families about all the things they could do with the new technology. I’m pretty sure I brought the issue with the iMac on the cover and held it on my lap.
He remained emotionless and definitely unmoved. Then he reached for the magazine and began to thumb through it. Hope sprung. He was paying attention after all. After what was at best a twenty-second perusal, he waved the magazine back to me with these words. “You are simply not a thought leader.”
Not a thought leader…shoot me. And the first words he’d uttered? Call me fat and ugly, I thought, but daggers on the thought leadership. I winced, processed and made a snap decision to go for the folksy charm “I’ll win you over comeback”.
“Well, not everyone has to be a thought leader, you know. I speak to real people about their real lives. That’s just as important don’t you think so?”
I checked his face for a reaction. And then he let me know in not so many words that not only was I, not a thought leader, I was not even thought-leaderish savvy enough to know what one was.
“We buy ads,” said Jobs, “but in the New Yorker, The Atlantic ….” I tuned out after the first two but saw deep disdain for trade magazines in his eyes. My technology for all crusade was clearly not part of his master plan. Shot down in about 3 minutes.
Jet-lagged. Three kids at home. Magazine on the fritz. And Steve and I would never be buds because I was not a thought leader. My eyes grew moist; the verge of tears. Two ways to go out of a meeting like that. Tail between legs or summon up some shred of dignity. I stood up, picked my magazine from the table, and said, “I sat through demos of all of the lamest ideas and ballyhooed failures and never once did cross my mind to say that you weren’t a thought leader.”
As I turned to leave (and wipe my tear) I muttered, “Over my dead body would I ever buy an Apple product.” And I haven’t, which means that I’m definitely not a thought leader still.
Note from Publisher:
I enjoyed a fantastic week with Robin in Italy a few years ago. Her stories are endless and fascinating. What a life she is living! I've been nudging her for years to write a book. I'm glad she has finally started! -Mary Couzin