Photo: Philanthropic Ventures Foundation
James Higa, a former Apple vice president who describes his job there as “special ops for Steve”—Steve Jobs, that is—recently gave an interview to Lifestyles, a philanthropy magazine.The issue is out now, and the author, Darren Gluckman, has posted a copy of the profile, titled “iJames,” online.
Higa reveals little, a frustration Gluckman airs in the introduction of the piece: “If you expect to sit across from James Higa and extract memories about his long relationship with Steve Jobs, you’ll leave with an empty notebook.”
Higa told Gluckman, “I’m a bit sensitive to people taking advantage of Steve’s death and their closeness to him.”
Higa told Gluckman he wouldn’t even speak to Walter Isaacson, jobs’ official biographer. (He also told Gluckman he started but hadn’t finished the book.)
But Gluckman finally got Higa talking about why Jobs picked him as his right-hand man, tasked with critical projects like negotiating rights with the music labels for the launch of the iTunes Store. Higa, a Stanford University political-science major, was working as a freelance photographer at the time—hardly a typical resume for work at Apple.
Higa explained that there were “two things” that got him the job:
One was an ability to be frank, honest, and able to go toe-to-toe with him on any question. The other was wide peripheral vision. He’s always wanted that in the people around him. The ability to connect dots is really important. A Renaissance perspective on the world. Because it was always about the intersection of technology and liberal arts.
The article does not cover what is in our mind the most interesting chapter in Jobs and Higa’s relationship—the time they spent apart.
In the mid-1980s, Higa worked for Apple setting up its business in Japan. In 1989, he joined jobs’ second computer company, NeXT, and ran Asia-Pacific operations there until 1996, when Apple bought NeXT and Jobs returned to the company as an advisor. Higa did not return to Apple with Jobs, however; instead, he joined RealNetworks, the online-multimedia software company, as a senior executive in charge of its international and consumer businesses.
In 2001, though, he returned to Apple at a critical point in its turnaround—that was the year that Jobs unveiled the iPod.
Higa left Apple in July 2012, joining Philanthropic Ventures Foundation the next month as its executive director.
Here’s Gluckman’s interview with Higa via his posting on Scribd: