In October 2010, Steve Jobs sent an email to Phil Schiller with the subject line “Top 100 – A.”
Its contents: an itinerary for a top secret meeting — called the Top 100 — to be held early the next year, in 2011.
The Top 100 is a big deal at Apple.
In 2011, Fortune’s Adam Lashinsky described what the Top 100 is, and how the meeting works:
There is a small group at Apple that most certainly has met Steve Jobs. It’s called the Top 100, and every year or so Jobs gathers these select few for an intense three-day strategy session at a proverbially secure, undisclosed location. Everything about this Top 100 meeting is shrouded in secrecy, starting with its very existence. Those tapped to attend are encouraged not to put the meeting on their calendars. Discussing their participation is a no-no, even internally. Attendees aren’t allowed to drive themselves to the gathering. Instead they ride buses that depart from Apple’s Cupertino, Calif., headquarters to places like the sumptuous Chaminade Resort & Spa in Santa Cruz, Calif., which satisfies two Jobs requirements: good food and no golf course. Apple goes so far as to have the meeting rooms swept for electronic bugs to stymie snooping competitors.
The Top 100 meeting is an important managerial tool for Jobs. He and his chief lieutenants use it to inform a supremely influential group about where Apple is headed. The elaborately staged event also gives Jobs an opportunity to share his grand vision with Apple’s next generation of leaders. The Top 100 meeting is part strategic offsite, part legacy-building exercise.
Jobs generally kicks things off personally. Each session is as well crafted as the public product debuts for which the CEO is so famous. For presenters the career stakes are high, and the pressure is nerve-racking. “The Top 100 was a horrifying experience for 10 or so people,” recalls one former vice president, who took the stage some years ago. “For the other 90 it’s the best few days of their life.” Jobs sometimes uses the occasion to unveil important initiatives. “I was at a Top 100 when Steve showed us the iPod,” says Mike Janes, who worked at Apple from 1998 to 2003 and remains close to Apple executives. “Apart from a tiny group, no one knew anything about it.”
To be selected for the Top 100 is to be anointed by Jobs, an honour not necessarily based on rank. Jobs referred to the group, but not the conclave, in an interview several years ago with Fortune. “My job is to work with sort of the Top 100 people,” he said. “That doesn’t mean they’re all vice presidents. Some of them are just key individual contributors. So when a good idea comes … part of my job is to move it around [and] … get ideas moving among that group of 100 people.” Privately Jobs has spoken even more strongly about the Top 100’s importance. “If he had to recreate the company, these are the 100 people he’d bring along” is how one former Apple executive describes Jobs’ characterization.
Though its name isn’t to be uttered, the blessed nature of the gathering creates a caste system at Apple. Inclusion is by no means permanent. According to Jobs’ whims, attendees can be bumped from one year to the next, and being kicked out of this exclusive club is humiliating. For those left behind in Cupertino, chattering begins as soon the chosen few have departed. “We’d tongue-and-cheek have a Bottom 100 lunch after we were done preparing the people who’d left,” recalls one nonparticipant. Says another: “We weren’t supposed to know where they were. But we all knew.”
The email is now public due to an on-going lawsuit between Apple and Samsung.
Given how secretive these meetings were and that 2011 was Steve Jobs’ last year at Apple, the email is a fascinating historical document.
So we’ve embedded it and annotated it below, using News Genius. Click on any of the highlighted portions to see a note featuring a text or video annotation.
Read “Itinerary for Apple’s 2011 Top 100 Meeting” by Steve Jobs on News Genius
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