Becoming Steve Jobs: A Jobs well done

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Published: June 7, 2015 12:10:51 AM

Becoming Steve Jobs, which talks about the life and times of the legendary entrepreneur, makes for a compelling read.

Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of  a Reckless Upstart into  a Visionary Leader
Brent Schlender & Rick Tetzeli
Rs 699
Pp 447

BECOMING STEVE Jobs is the second biography on Steve Jobs to appear in the last four years after his death, the most definitive one being Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs, as it was written with Jobs’ cooperation. But even though it was a best-seller, there were indications that it wasn’t received well by Apple employees. So when Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli decided to write about the legendary entrepreneur, Apple took it as an opportunity to reshape Jobs’ posthumous image and helped the authors bag interviews with four top executives of the firm, including current CEO Tim Cook, who is trying hard to fit into the shoes of the iconic leader.

While veteran tech journalist Schlender has been covering Jobs and Apple for The Wall Street Journal and Fortune magazine for about 25 years now, his co-author Tetzeli is the executive editor of business magazine Fast Company. Therefore, it was Schlender who shared a closer relationship with Jobs and so the authors decided to use the first-person singular for Schlender throughout the book.

In one of the interviews in Becoming Steve Jobs, Cook tells the authors that after he learnt of Jobs’ need for a liver transplant, it became difficult for him to see the legend slip away day by day. His deteriorating health condition even provoked Cook to offer him his own liver. After intensive research, Cook had found out that he had the right blood type and was healthy enough to offer a portion of his liver to Jobs. But even before Cook could finish what he was saying, Jobs replied, “No. I’ll never let you do that. I’ll never do that.”

Cook says it is this selfless side of Jobs that people failed to document. “I thought the Isaacson book did him a tremendous disservice. It didn’t capture the person,” Cook says.

The first quarter of Becoming Steve Jobs doesn’t have anything new, as it talks about Jobs’ poor management skills in the initial years and his impulsiveness—it also talks about his relationship with his first daughter Lisa. However, the latter part of the book is what makes it a compelling read, as it consists of anecdotes shared by those who were close to Jobs. For instance, Jobs told Disney CEO Robert Iger about his disease just a few minutes before Iger was to announce the purchase of animation film studio Pixar by his company for $7.4 billion. It was the size of the acquisition that compelled Jobs to reveal his health condition.

Schlender and Tetzeli convey through their book that Jobs has been grossly misrepresented all these years by various authors who failed to identify the ‘real’ him. They feel Jobs’ period of transformation—the book terms Jobs’ tenure as CEO at Pixar as a transformation period when its co-founder Ed Catmull trained him and improved his management skills—has been overlooked by previous authors, as that bit about his life wasn’t as juicy as it was to present him as an impulsive entrepreneur who was thrown out of his own company.

The authors also focus on how Jobs evolved from a short-tempered and reckless entrepreneur to a person who developed a wise and mature style of managing people before making his comeback by launching the iPod, iPhone and iPad.

Toy Story, the movie which catapulted Pixar into eternal glory, gets a special mention in the book, as its character Woody, who emerges as a hero after his separation from the family home, is somewhat similar to Jobs.

The book though loses its grip once the reader realises that it hasn’t really succeeded in sugarcoating Jobs as it had aimed to. For instance, one gets to know through the book that even co-author Schlender had fallen prey to Jobs’ temperamental behaviour.

In 2005, Schlender had fallen seriously ill. Jobs visited him in the hospital several times and made sure that he was well looked after. But once Schlender stopped contributing to Fortune magazine because of his illness, Jobs, too, stopped responding to Schlender, as he was of no use to him any more.

“There was never a minute where the basic terms of our relationship weren’t clear: I was the reporter, he was the source and subject,” the co-author says in the book. “No one I have spoken to has a unified theory for the staying power of Steve’s childish behaviour, not even Laurene (Job’s widow).”

Surprisingly, this unveils a similar portrait of Jobs as painted by previous authors: that he cared deeply about the people around him only when he needed them.

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