What it was like to stand up to Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs is one of the most iconic visionaries in business and technology, and those who have had the privilege to work with him have learned exceptional things from him. But, at the same time, Jobs had quite the reputation for being hot-headed and intimidating.

Some employees, however, had the gall to stand up to Jobs when when the situation called for it. And, in turn, they ended up being some of his most respected employees.

Regina McKenna, Apple’s first marketing guru and one of the company’s earliest employees, was very close to Jobs. And he wasn’t afraid to call out Jobs when his behaviour was inappropriate. In their book “Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader,” Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli cited capture one instance in which McKenna stood up to the Apple co-founder.

Here’s what McKenna said to Schlender and Tetzeli:

He did have that quick, reactive temper, but I never had him shout at me; I never had him upset with me. Did we disagree? Yeah. Did we argue? Yes. But we also got along really, really well. I had an assistant who told me that Steve called up wanting something, and had yelled and yelled at her, using a lot of four-letter words. Next time I saw Steve, I told him, ‘Hey, don’t ever do that again.’ She said the next time he came to the office, he walked in and said he was really embarrassed and apologised.

McKenna wasn’t afraid of Jobs because he had worked under tough bosses before, such as Charles Sporck when he was the CEO of National Semiconductor and Don Valentine and Sequoia Capital’s Donald Valentine, as he explained to Schlender and Tetzeli:

If you weren’t strong, they’d just gobble you up. So it didn’t bother me to say, ‘Hey, Steve, shut up. He didn’t dominate you to be mean. But when people acted as minions, he let them be minions.

As time went on, Jobs’ engineering team at Apple also stood up to him on occasion. But they had to pick their fights carefully. Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates described one particular scenario to Schlender and Tetzeli that he observed when visiting Apple:

When Steve would pull any one individual out of the pack and say, ‘Your work is such shit and you’re such an idiot,’ the pack had to decide, ok, are we going to let this one go or do we really like this guy. And they could go to Steve afterwards and say, ‘Hey, come on, there aren’t that many people we can hire that are near as good as that guy, go back and apologise.’ And he would, even though he intensity was still just incredible.

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