Steve Jobs and his European conferences back in 1985 – an insight by Mauro Cuomo who followed him on this trip
The latest film about Steve Jobs brought back a lot of memories of my time spent in Apple in Cupertino, and I felt the need to put them all on paper.
It was March 1985 and I was the Macintosh International Product Manager working in Cupertino with the Macintosh Division, a business unit of the Apple Computer Inc. For some weeks I had been working on the organization of the series of European conferences that Steve Jobs would be attending during the month of June; a nice round trip in a private jet in some of the most beautiful European cities such as Rome, Paris and London.
Suddenly, everything changed in mid-May: the Macintosh division did not exist anymore. It was quite a shock also because the main consequence was the fact that Steve lost his managing position, although he continued to be Apple’s Chairman of the Board. I remember a plenary meeting in Bandley 3 (Mac Divison’s office building), where the star was Jean Louis Gassee, an executive at Apple, announcing the disappearance of the seven, the reuniting of Apple, the birth of the international division in Cupertino and, last but not least his guidance of the unified division of R&D, (which was responsible for some of the worst Apple products in history such as Mac plus, various SE, and cars, until then decided to call Steve). The thing I remember the most, in addition to numerous questions about Steve and some politically correct answers, was that the meeting itself was rather pathetic.
But let’s move on to our conference tour: well, after the “fall” of Steve, all the people who were supposed to attend took “a step back”; all except for me – in the meantime I had refused a position in the new international division and had instead accepted the exit package that included my dismissal and the subsequent relocation to Italy, but not before I had fulfilled my duty to accompany Steve on the tour.
Before the trip, several people tried to dissuade or otherwise prepare to manage a “fool”, a fool according to them, but a fool who could see so far into the future and I have to say, on that trip, after being hit so hard, behaved not only impeccable but like a human, a normal person, and surely very entertaining, with whom you can have a serious discussion about the usefulness or not of the bidet (I remember the words “What’s wrong with the toilet paper?”).
He was impeccable at improvised speeches, formidable, aside Germany – but I’ll come back to that later. He was a visionary, but also concrete. One very nice speech was at Lund University in Sweden. I remember that on that trip he claimed that the next Mac would have Unix kernel (it took a while but he did it!).
Rome, the first stage begins with a speech to young entrepreneurs: a crowded audience, simultaneous translation, the big stage with a table and several people. The president of the young entrepreneurs presents Steve and continues to talk…and talk and talk. In the meantime, I’m in the audience and I see that Steve struggles to follow the speech, so when finally, after 40 minutes, the speech ends, not knowing he had the microphone turned on, he says, “so many words …” When he notices the microphone is on, he continues “just to introduce me…” followed by a big smile: it seems to work… the conversation is interesting and the audience interested.
After that we had dinner with the Minister of Labour, Gianni De Michelis, who Steve really liked. He then took us to one of the clubs where at that time (it was 1985, under the government of Craxi) he used to spend his nights.
I have very few memories from Paris, but I remember the dinner with the French minister of telecommunications well, where Steve tried to convince him to “throw away” the Minitel, that invaded France at that time and to adopt the Mac for the benefit of the citizens… But he didn’t make it. I remember him saying something like “today the cost to produce one Mac is $506, if I take out the floppy, change these components, remove this and also this we can produce them for $290/300, meaning that we could sell them in France for $600 a piece.” The minister answered that Minitel still costs half of that sum, then finally Steve gave up and the conversation became quite boring, but at least we were having dinner at Paracucchi.
My memories in London are all related to one surreal dinner (at least it was for me). It was with Steve, Richard Bradson and Douglas Adams (yes, the one that wrote The Hitchhiker’s Guide Through The Galaxy). I was mesmerized by their fascinating conversation about the future forecast; the big difference between the three of them is that Douglas talked on what might have happened while Steve and Richard talked on what they could do to change the future. Come to think of it, almost all of it is real today (I say almost mostly referred to the previsions of Douglas that were a bit more avant-guard).
I remember when Steve tried to order 6 shirts from Jermyn Street, supposedly known as being Great Britain´s most prestigious tailor; an unforgettable scene. Steve wanted to order the shirts at any cost, and the store clerk kept refusing to take his order: “We can´t Sir, we aren´t able to make your shirts 6-8 months in advance, during that time, your measurements may change and you may be unsatisfied with the fit”, and Steve kept insisting that his measurements would not change, he wouldn´t gain any weight and if he did, it would be his own problem, not theirs. Steve exited with no success, muttering that he probably wouldn´t sell them a Mac because of the fear they wouldn´t be satisfied with the mouse, hold him responsible, and kept mumbling other stuff… Steve couldn´t believe that a store would ever refuse to sell their products.
It is unfortunate that I remember almost everything from our trip to Munich: we arrived, we passed by the hotel to drop off our bags and immediately headed towards the National Library, where everyone was waiting for us for a ceremony of the donation of a Mac. We were originally told there would be a large audience, lots of press, and diverse spectators. Steve was asked to present a speech and donate the computer. What we found instead was: the director of the institution, 5/6 employees from Apple Germany, one photographer (paid for by Apple) and … and that was it. I remember when Steve asked the local General Manager “that’s all?”, at that point, the team consults the responsible PR, phone calls were made, and time passes and the answer arrives, “yes.” There wouldn´t be anyone else attending and we would need to proceed because the director had other appointments afterwards.
Steve stood up at the podium at the Grand Hall in the office and said, “Thank you for being here; under the circumstances, I think a three minute speech may be appropriate.“ He then spoke for exactly 3 minutes pointing out how he couldn´t understand why in Germany, a country with a culture that values the Mac’s precision, wasn´t enthusiastic about this occasion.
He donated the Mac and we then went to our Head office in Germany; it was there that Steve really gave everyone an earful for at least an hour. I remember he began by saying “It’s going quite shitty here, huh?!?” He then turned to me and says, “We’re going to Florence now, find the pilot and tell him.”
This would not be an easy task. There weren´t any cell phones and it wasn´t easy to find that pilot. Also Florence wasn´t on our flight itinerary. At that time the airport in Florence wasn´t prepared to land a plane at night. Somehow, we managed and arrived safely.
Steve was fine in Florence, a city he loved dearly. We wore jeans, a t-shirt, and sneakers. We finally felt free, with no one to hold us back! We walk to the city centre and Steve scares a kid that was wearing a pin-badge with colourful apple saying “look at this!!!” and grabbed the kid by the collar to let me see better.
We then go to dinner and it gets late. We decide not to look for a hotel since our next flight was scheduled at 7 in the morning anyway. We needed to return to Frankfurt where we had a flight booked to take us back to San Francisco. We start heading towards the airport (Steve loved walking, I liked it much less) we arrive late at night to find it closed! There was a light on inside, so I knock on the door.
A custodian wearing a tank arrives and believes everything we tell him: we have to leave at 7 AM on that jet over there – he not only lets us in, but also gives us sleeping bags to sleep in. The pilot wakes us up, dressed impeccably in his uniform, making us look like to homeless men when placed next to him. We enter the plane together. We fly to Frankfurt and then San Francisco. We arrive home. For me, not so much since I´d end up leaving California in 15 days to go back to Italy with my wife.
In one way or another, that business trip created a bond; we met up a few times before I left for Italy, and then later a few times in Milan on the occasions his travel to Italy. We´d also meet every time I would fly out to Cupertino (yes, because in Italy I re-joined Apple, but when Steve re-joined, I no longer worked there). We then wrote each other emails on rare occasions until he became ill. That was when he stopped answering my emails and I stopped writing him.
When Steve passed, I cried more for the loss of a friend than for a genius.