Steve Jobs And Barack Obama Had A Dinner Together In 2011 That May Have Changed The Course Of American History

Most people defer to Barack Obama, the President of the United States. 

But not Steve Jobs, the departed King of Apple. 

That much was made clear at a February 2011 dinner for President Obama organised by John Doerr, the esteemed Kleiner Perkins venture capitalist. 

Before the dinner, Doerr sent Jobs the menu. 

As Walter Isaacson reports in his sterling biography of Jobs, he was having none of it. 

Jobs told Doerr that the cod, lentils, and other dishes were too snooty. 

They’re “not who you are, John,” Jobs reportedly said. 

(For the record, Doerr’s net worth is currently estimated to be around $US3 billion — enough wealth to buy fancy). 

Once the dinner finally came, Jobs told Obama that there were nowhere near enough trained engineers in the US.

Jobs said that there should be a program where foreigners who earned an engineering degree could be given a visa to stay in the States. 

Obama — with what one can imagine to be his trademark patience — explained that such a program could only happen within the “Dream Act,” a proposed plan to allow illegal residents who came to the US as minors and graduated high school to gain legal resident status. But the Republicans blocked it.

The whole thing irritated Jobs.

“The president is very smart,” Jobs told Isaacson, “but he kept explaining to us reasons why things can’t get done. It infuriates me.” 

Jobs continued to press the engineering angle at the dinner, saying that at the time Apple employed 700,000 factory workers in China, plus 30,000 engineers to support those workers. 

It perplexed Jobs — why couldn’t those engineers be American? 

There wasn’t a giant education barrier. They didn’t need to be Ph.D.s. They could be educated in trade schools. 

If those engineers were stateside, Jobs argued, then the factories could be, too. 

“If you could educate these engineers,” he said, “then we could move more manufacturing plants here.”

Isaacson reported that Jobs’ reasoning stuck with Obama.

Over the next month, he repeatedly told his aides that “we’ve got to find ways to train those 30,000 manufacturing engineers that Jobs told us about.”

There are a few takeaways to draw from this encounter between history-making figures:

•  Jobs had no patience for the creaky bureaucracy of government. This showed his urgency, a trait that enabled his entrepreneurial success — or so argues Malcolm Gladwell

• Jobs had no problem with critiquing John Doerr, one of the most respected people in tech. As Gladwell has also argued, innovators tend to be disagreeable. They care little for the many forms of convention — whether that be politeness or traditional ways of doing business. 

• Jobs’ suggestion was an insightful one. The following year, Obama made manufacturing-oriented vocational training a focus of his education budget, and in 2013 he made a commitment to community colleges. But these things take time to develop. As we’ve reported, US manufacturing activity fell in late 2014.

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