Google chairman Eric Schmidt isn’t afraid of being critical of Apple — last week, he even told Bloomberg competition between the two tech giants was as “brutal” as ever — but when asked about his heroes on Thursday night, he gave a simple answer: “For me, it’s easy. Steve Jobs.”
“We could all aspire to be a small percentage of Steve,” Schmidt told a packed room at the Commonwealth Club of Silicon Valley, according to CNET. He was there to promote his new book he wrote with Google’s products VP Jonathan Rosenberg, “How Google Works.”
Schmidt first met Jobs in 1993; Jobs had already been canned by his former company and was working at NeXT, while Schmidt was at Sun Microsystems, where he started as the company’s first software manager and eventually climbed the ladder to become director of software engineering and president of Sun Technology Enterprises, among other titles.
The two met when Jobs invited a few members of Sun’s team, including Schmidt, to learn about the new computer language that served as the foundation for the latest NeXT computer, called Objective-C.
Schmidt questioned some of the technical aspects of Jobs’ presentation, but he was absolutely smitten with his persuasiveness. And as Schmidt and his team tried dissecting Jobs’ new technologies in the parking lot of NeXT, Jobs noticed the group still chatting and ran out to continue the conversation — for another full hour, according to Schmidt’s new book.
Schmidt and Jobs became friends over the years. And in 2006, Jobs invited Schmidt to join Apple’s board.
Google was a big part of Apple’s first iPhone event in 2007, because Google search and Maps would be a major part of the early iOS ecosystem — Schmidt even appeared on stage to introduce those products and talk up the iPhone. But when Google finally announced Android later that same year, the rivalry between Google and Apple began heating up.
Jobs felt betrayed — in August, months prior to Android’s unveiling, Jobs got wind of Google’s open-source competitor to iOS and reportedly “railed” at him, “furious about his smartphone plans and duplicity,” according to Gawker.
Jobs later told his biographer Walter Isaacson that “I’m going to destroy Android, because it’s a stolen product. I’m willing to go thermonuclear war on this.”
Schmidt ultimately stepped down from Apple’s board in August 2009.
But still, despite the rivalries in mobile and in the courtroom, especially over patents, Schmidt held deep admiration for Jobs and his “reality distortion field.” In 2008, Schmidt called Jobs “the best CEO in the world today.”
“Exceptional people are worth hanging out with,” Schmidt said Thursday. “Because there is a good chance they are going to change the world.”
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