The Twilight Struggle
Jobs had an aching desire to make it to his son’s graduation from high school in June 2010. “When I was diagnosed with cancer, I made my deal with God or whatever, which was that I really wanted to see Reed graduate, and that got me through 2009,” he said. As a senior, Reed looked eerily like his father at eighteen, with a knowing and slightly rebellious smile, intense eyes, and a shock of dark hair. But from his mother he had inherited a sweetness and painfully sensitive empathy that his father lacked. He was demonstrably affectionate and eager to please. Whenever his father was sitting sullenly at the kitchen table and staring at the floor, which happened often when he was ailing, the only thing sure to cause his eyes to brighten was Reed walking in.
Reed adored his father. Soon after I started working on this book, he dropped in to where I was staying and, as his father often did, suggested we take a walk. He told me, with an intensely earnest look, that his father was not a cold profit-seeking businessman but was motivated by a love of what he did and a pride in the products he was making.
After Jobs was diagnosed with cancer, Reed began spending his summers working in a Stanford oncology lab doing DNA sequencing to find genetic markers for colon cancer. In one experiment, he traced how mutations go through families. “One of the very few silver linings about me getting sick is that Reed’s gotten to spend a lot of time studying with some very good doctors,” Jobs said. “His enthusiasm for it is exactly how I felt about computers when I was his age. I think the biggest innovations of the twenty-first century will be the intersection of biology and technology. A new era is beginning, just like the digital one was when I was his age.”
Reed used his cancer study as the basis for the senior report he presented to his class at Crystal Springs Uplands School. As he described how he used centrifuges and dyes to sequence the DNA of tumors, his father sat in the audience beaming, along with the rest of his family. “I fantasize about Reed getting a house here in Palo Alto with his family and riding his bike to work as a doctor at Stanford,” Jobs said afterward.
Reed had grown up fast in 2009, when it looked as if his father was going to die. He took care of his younger sisters while his parents were in Memphis, and he developed a protective paternalism. But when his father’s health stabilized in the spring of 2010, he regained his playful, teasing personality. One day during dinner he was discussing with his family where to take his girlfriend for dinner. His father suggested Il Fornaio, an elegant standard in Palo Alto, but Reed said he had been unable to get reservations. “Do you want me to try?” his father asked. Reed resisted; he wanted to handle it himself. Erin, the somewhat shy middle child, suggested that she could outfit a tepee in their garden and she and Eve, the younger sister, would serve them a romantic meal there. Reed stood up and hugged her. He would take her up on that some other time, he promised.
One Saturday Reed was one of the four contestants on his school’s Quiz Kids team competing on a local TV station. The family—minus Eve, who was in a horse show—came to cheer him on. As the television crew bumbled around getting ready, his father tried to keep his impatience in check and remain inconspicuous among the parents sitting in the rows of folding chairs. But he was clearly recognizable in his trademark jeans and black turtleneck, and one woman pulled up a chair right next to him and started to take his picture. Without looking at her, he stood up and moved to the other end of the row. When Reed came on the set, his nameplate identified him as “Reed Powell.” The host asked the students what they wanted to be when they grew up. “A cancer researcher,” Reed answered.
Jobs drove his two-seat Mercedes SL55, taking Reed, while his wife followed in her own car with Erin. On the way home, she asked Erin why she thought her father refused to have a license plate on his car. “To be a rebel,” she answered. I later put the question to Jobs. “Because people follow me sometimes, and if I have a license plate, they can track down where I live,” he replied. “But that’s kind of getting obsolete now with Google Maps. So I guess, really, it’s just because I don’t.”
During Reed’s graduation ceremony, his father sent me an email from his iPhone that simply exulted, “Today is one of my happiest days. Reed is graduating from High School. Right now. And, against all odds, I am here.” That night there was a party at their house with close friends and family. Reed danced with every member of his family, including his father. Later Jobs took his son out to the barnlike storage shed to offer him one of his two bicycles, which he wouldn’t be riding again. Reed joked that the Italian one looked a bit too gay, so Jobs told him to take the solid eight-speed next to it. When Reed said he would be indebted, Jobs answered, “You don’t need to be indebted, because you have my DNA.” A few days later Toy Story 3 opened. Jobs had nurtured this Pixar trilogy from the beginning, and the final installment was about the emotions surrounding the departure of Andy for college. “I wish I could always be with you,” Andy’s mother says. “You always will be,” he replies.
Jobs’s relationship with his two younger daughters was somewhat more distant. He paid less attention to Erin, who was quiet, introspective, and seemed not to know exactly how to handle him, especially when he was emitting wounding barbs. She was a poised and attractive young woman, with a personal sensitivity more mature than her father’s. She thought that she might want to be an architect, perhaps because of her father’s interest in the field, and she had a good sense of design. But when her father was showing Reed the drawings for the new Apple campus, she sat on the other side of the kitchen, and it seemed not to occur to him to call her over as well. Her big hope that spring of 2010 was that her father would take her to the Oscars. She loved the movies. Even more, she wanted to fly with her father on his private plane and walk up the red carpet with him. Powell was quite willing to forgo the trip and tried to talk her husband into taking Erin. But he dismissed the idea.
At one point as I was finishing this book, Powell told me that Erin wanted to give me an interview. It’s not something that I would have requested, since she was then just turning sixteen, but I agreed. The point Erin emphasized was that she understood why her father was not always attentive, and she accepted that. “He does his best to be both a father and the CEO of Apple, and he juggles those pretty well,” she said. “Sometimes I wish I had more of his attention, but I know the work he’s doing is very important and I think it’s really cool, so I’m fine. I don’t really need more attention.”
Jobs had promised to take each of his children on a trip of their choice when they became teenagers. Reed chose to go to Kyoto, knowing how much his father was entranced by the Zen calm of that beautiful city. Not surprisingly, when Erin turned thirteen, in 2008, she chose Kyoto as well. Her father’s illness caused him to cancel the trip, so he promised to take her in 2010, when he was better. But that June he decided he didn’t want to go. Erin was crestfallen but didn’t protest. Instead her mother took her to France with family friends, and they rescheduled the Kyoto trip for July.
Powell worried that her husband would again cancel, so she was thrilled when the whole family took off in early July for Kona Village, Hawaii, which was the first leg of the trip. But in Hawaii Jobs developed a bad toothache, which he ignored, as if he could will the cavity away. The tooth collapsed and had to be fixed. Then the iPhone 4 antenna crisis hit, and he decided to rush back to Cupertino, taking Reed with him. Powell and Erin stayed in Hawaii, hoping that Jobs would return and continue with the plans to take them to Kyoto.
To their relief, and mild surprise, Jobs actually did return to Hawaii after his press conference to pick them up and take them to Japan. “It’s a miracle,” Powell told a friend. While Reed took care of Eve back in Palo Alto, Erin and her parents stayed at the Tawaraya Ryokan, an inn of sublime simplicity that Jobs loved. “It was fantastic,” Erin recalled.
Twenty years earlier Jobs had taken Erin’s half-sister, Lisa Brennan-Jobs, to Japan when she was about the same age. Among her strongest memories was sharing with him delightful meals and watching him, usually such a picky eater, savor unagi sushi and other delicacies. Seeing him take joy in eating made Lisa feel relaxed with him for the first time. Erin recalled a similar experience: “Dad knew where he wanted to go to lunch every day. He told me he knew an incredible soba shop, and he took me there, and it was so good that it’s been hard to ever eat soba again because nothing comes close.” They also found a tiny neighborhood sushi restaurant, and Jobs tagged it on his iPhone as “best sushi I’ve ever had.” Erin agreed.
They also visited Kyoto’s famous Zen Buddhist temples; the one Erin loved most was Saihō-ji, known as the “moss temple” because of its Golden Pond surrounded by gardens featuring more than a hundred varieties of moss. “Erin was really really happy, which was deeply gratifying and helped improve her relationship with her father,” Powell recalled. “She deserved that.”
Their younger daughter, Eve, was quite a different story. She was spunky, self-assured, and in no way intimidated by her father. Her passion was horseback riding, and she became determined to make it to the Olympics. When a coach told her how much work it would require, she replied, “Tell me exactly what I need to do. I will do it.” He did, and she began diligently following the program.
Eve was an expert at the difficult task of pinning her father down; she often called his assistant at work directly to make sure something got put on his calendar. She was also pretty good as a negotiator. One weekend in 2010, when the family was planning a trip, Erin wanted to delay the departure by half a day, but she was afraid to ask her father. Eve, then twelve, volunteered to take on the task, and at dinner she laid out the case to her father as if she were a lawyer before the Supreme Court. Jobs cut her off—“No, I don’t think I want to”—but it was clear that he was more amused than annoyed. Later that evening Eve sat down with her mother and deconstructed the various ways that she could have made her case better.
Jobs came to appreciate her spirit—and see a lot of himself in her. “She’s a pistol and has the strongest will of any kid I’ve ever met,” he said. “It’s like payback.” He had a deep understanding of her personality, perhaps because it bore some resemblance to his. “Eve is more sensitive than a lot of people think,” he explained. “She’s so smart that she can roll over people a bit, so that means she can alienate people, and she finds herself alone. She’s in the process of learning how to be who she is, but tempers it around the edges so that she can have the friends that she needs.”
Jobs’s relationship with his wife was sometimes complicated but always loyal. Savvy and compassionate, Laurene Powell was a stabilizing influence and an example of his ability to compensate for some of his selfish impulses by surrounding himself with strong-willed and sensible people. She weighed in quietly on business issues, firmly on family concerns, and fiercely on medical matters. Early in their marriage, she cofounded and launched College Track, a national after-school program that helps disadvantaged kids graduate from high school and get into college. Since then she had become a leading force in the education reform movement. Jobs professed an admiration for his wife’s work: “What she’s done with College Track really impresses me.” But he tended to be generally dismissive of philanthropic endeavors and never visited her after-school centers.
In February 2010 Jobs celebrated his fifty-fifth birthday with just his family. The kitchen was decorated with streamers and balloons, and his kids gave him a red-velvet toy crown, which he wore. Now that he had recovered from a grueling year of health problems, Powell hoped that he would become more attentive to his family. But for the most part he resumed his focus on his work. “I think it was hard on the family, especially the girls,” she told me. “After two years of him being ill, he finally gets a little better, and they expected he would focus a bit on them, but he didn’t.” She wanted to make sure, she said, that both sides of his personality were reflected in this book and put into context. “Like many great men whose gifts are extraordinary, he’s not extraordinary in every realm,” she said. “He doesn’t have social graces, such as putting himself in other people’s shoes, but he cares deeply about empowering humankind, the advancement of humankind, and putting the right tools in their hands.”
On a trip to Washington in the early fall of 2010, Powell had met with some of her friends at the White House who told her that President Obama was going to Silicon Valley that October. She suggested that he might want to meet with her husband. Obama’s aides liked the idea; it fit into his new emphasis on competitiveness. In addition, John Doerr, the venture capitalist who had become one of Jobs’s close friends, had told a meeting of the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board about Jobs’s views on why the United States was losing its edge. He too suggested that Obama should meet with Jobs. So a half hour was put on the president’s schedule for a session at the Westin San Francisco Airport.
There was one problem: When Powell told her husband, he said he didn’t want to do it. He was annoyed that she had arranged it behind his back. “I’m not going to get slotted in for a token meeting so that he can check off that he met with a CEO,” he told her. She insisted that Obama was “really psyched to meet with you.” Jobs replied that if that were the case, then Obama should call and personally ask for the meeting. The standoff went on for five days. She called in Reed, who was at Stanford, to come home for dinner and try to persuade his father. Jobs finally relented.
The meeting actually lasted forty-five minutes, and Jobs did not hold back. “You’re headed for a one-term presidency,” Jobs told Obama at the outset. To prevent that, he said, the administration needed to be a lot more business-friendly. He described how easy it was to build a factory in China, and said that it was almost impossible to do so these days in America, largely because of regulations and unnecessary costs.
Jobs also attacked America’s education system, saying that it was hopelessly antiquated and crippled by union work rules. Until the teachers’ unions were broken, there was almost no hope for education reform. Teachers should be treated as professionals, he said, not as industrial assembly-line workers. Principals should be able to hire and fire them based on how good they were. Schools should be staying open until at least 6 p.m. and be in session eleven months of the year. It was absurd, he added, that American classrooms were still based on teachers standing at a board and using textbooks. All books, learning materials, and assessments should be digital and interactive, tailored to each student and providing feedback in real time.
Jobs offered to put together a group of six or seven CEOs who could really explain the innovation challenges facing America, and the president accepted. So Jobs made a list of people for a Washington meeting to be held in December. Unfortunately, after Valerie Jarrett and other presidential aides had added names, the list had expanded to more than twenty, with GE’s Jeffrey Immelt in the lead. Jobs sent Jarrett an email saying it was a bloated list and he had no intention of coming. In fact his health problems had flared anew by then, so he would not have been able to go in any case, as Doerr privately explained to the president.
In February 2011, Doerr began making plans to host a small dinner for President Obama in Silicon Valley. He and Jobs, along with their wives, went to dinner at Evvia, a Greek restaurant in Palo Alto, to draw up a tight guest list. The dozen chosen tech titans included Google’s Eric Schmidt, Yahoo’s Carol Bartz, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Cisco’s John Chambers, Oracle’s Larry Ellison, Genentech’s Art Levinson, and Netflix’s Reed Hastings. Jobs’s attention to the details of the dinner extended to the food. Doerr sent him the proposed menu, and he responded that some of the dishes proposed by the caterer—shrimp, cod, lentil salad—were far too fancy “and not who you are, John.” He particularly objected to the dessert that was planned, a cream pie tricked out with chocolate truffles, but the White House advance staff overruled him by telling the caterer that the president liked cream pie. Because Jobs had lost so much weight that he was easily chilled, Doerr kept the house so warm that Zuckerberg found himself sweating profusely.
Jobs, sitting next to the president, kicked off the dinner by saying, “Regardless of our political persuasions, I want you to know that we’re here to do whatever you ask to help our country.” Despite that, the dinner initially became a litany of suggestions of what the president could do for the businesses there. Chambers, for example, pushed a proposal for a repatriation tax holiday that would allow major corporations to avoid tax payments on overseas profits if they brought them back to the United States for investment during a certain period. The president was annoyed, and so was Zuckerberg, who turned to Valerie Jarrett, sitting to his right, and whispered, “We should be talking about what’s important to the country. Why is he just talking about what’s good for him?”
Doerr was able to refocus the discussion by calling on everyone to suggest a list of action items. When Jobs’s turn came, he stressed the need for more trained engineers and suggested that any foreign students who earned an engineering degree in the United States should be given a visa to stay in the country. Obama said that could be done only in the context of the “Dream Act,” which would allow illegal aliens who arrived as minors and finished high school to become legal residents—something that the Republicans had blocked. Jobs found this an annoying example of how politics can lead to paralysis. “The president is very smart, but he kept explaining to us reasons why things can’t get done,” he recalled. “It infuriates me.”
Jobs went on to urge that a way be found to train more American engineers. Apple had 700,000 factory workers employed in China, he said, and that was because it needed 30,000 engineers on-site to support those workers. “You can’t find that many in America to hire,” he said. These factory engineers did not have to be PhDs or geniuses; they simply needed to have basic engineering skills for manufacturing. Tech schools, community colleges, or trade schools could train them. “If you could educate these engineers,” he said, “we could move more manufacturing plants here.” The argument made a strong impression on the president. Two or three times over the next month he told his aides, “We’ve got to find ways to train those 30,000 manufacturing engineers that Jobs told us about.”
Jobs was pleased that Obama followed up, and they talked by telephone a few times after the meeting. He offered to help create Obama’s political ads for the 2012 campaign. (He had made the same offer in 2008, but he’d become annoyed when Obama’s strategist David Axelrod wasn’t totally deferential.) “I think political advertising is terrible. I’d love to get Lee Clow out of retirement, and we can come up with great commercials for him,” Jobs told me a few weeks after the dinner. Jobs had been fighting pain all week, but the talk of politics energized him. “Every once in a while, a real ad pro gets involved, the way Hal Riney did with ‘It’s morning in America’ for Reagan’s reelection in 1984. So that’s what I’d like to do for Obama.”
Third Medical Leave, 2011
The cancer always sent signals as it reappeared. Jobs had learned that. He would lose his appetite and begin to feel pains throughout his body. His doctors would do tests, detect nothing, and reassure him that he still seemed clear. But he knew better. The cancer had its signaling pathways, and a few months after he felt the signs the doctors would discover that it was indeed no longer in remission.
Another such downturn began in early November 2010. He was in pain, stopped eating, and had to be fed intravenously by a nurse who came to the house. The doctors found no sign of more tumors, and they assumed that this was just another of his periodic cycles of fighting infections and digestive maladies. He had never been one to suffer pain stoically, so his doctors and family had become somewhat inured to his complaints.
He and his family went to Kona Village for Thanksgiving, but his eating did not improve. The dining there was in a communal room, and the other guests pretended not to notice as Jobs, looking emaciated, rocked and moaned at meals, not touching his food. It was a testament to the resort and its guests that his condition never leaked out. When he returned to Palo Alto, Jobs became increasingly emotional and morose. He thought he was going to die, he told his kids, and he would get choked up about the possibility that he would never celebrate any more of their birthdays.
By Christmas he was down to 115 pounds, which was more than fifty pounds below his normal weight. Mona Simpson came to Palo Alto for the holiday, along with her ex-husband, the television comedy writer Richard Appel, and their children. The mood picked up a bit. The families played parlor games such as Novel, in which participants try to fool each other by seeing who can write the most convincing fake opening sentence to a book, and things seemed to be looking up for a while. He was even able to go out to dinner at a restaurant with Powell a few days after Christmas. The kids went off on a ski vacation for New Year’s, with Powell and Mona Simpson taking turns staying at home with Jobs in Palo Alto.
By the beginning of 2011, however, it was clear that this was not merely one of his bad patches. His doctors detected evidence of new tumors, and the cancer-related signaling further exacerbated his loss of appetite. They were struggling to determine how much drug therapy his body, in its emaciated condition, would be able to take. Every inch of his body felt like it had been punched, he told friends, as he moaned and sometimes doubled over in pain.
It was a vicious cycle. The first signs of cancer caused pain. The morphine and other painkillers he took suppressed his appetite. His pancreas had been partly removed and his liver had been replaced, so his digestive system was faulty and had trouble absorbing protein. Losing weight made it harder to embark on aggressive drug therapies. His emaciated condition also made him more susceptible to infections, as did the immunosuppressants he sometimes took to keep his body from rejecting his liver transplant. The weight loss reduced the lipid layers around his pain receptors, causing him to suffer more. And he was prone to extreme mood swings, marked by prolonged bouts of anger and depression, which further suppressed his appetite.
Jobs’s eating problems were exacerbated over the years by his psychological attitude toward food. When he was young, he learned that he could induce euphoria and ecstasy by fasting. So even though he knew that he should eat—his doctors were begging him to consume high-quality protein—lingering in the back of his subconscious, he admitted, was his instinct for fasting and for diets like Arnold Ehret’s fruit regimen that he had embraced as a teenager. Powell kept telling him that it was crazy, even pointing out that Ehret had died at fifty-six when he stumbled and knocked his head, and she would get angry when he came to the table and just stared silently at his lap. “I wanted him to force himself to eat,” she said, “and it was incredibly tense at home.” Bryar Brown, their part-time cook, would still come in the afternoon and make an array of healthy dishes, but Jobs would touch his tongue to one or two dishes and then dismiss them all as inedible. One evening he announced, “I could probably eat a little pumpkin pie,” and the even-tempered Brown created a beautiful pie from scratch in an hour. Jobs ate only one bite, but Brown was thrilled.
Powell talked to eating disorder specialists and psychiatrists, but her husband tended to shun them. He refused to take any medications, or be treated in any way, for his depression. “When you have feelings,” he said, “like sadness or anger about your cancer or your plight, to mask them is to lead an artificial life.” In fact he swung to the other extreme. He became morose, tearful, and dramatic as he lamented to all around him that he was about to die. The depression became part of the vicious cycle by making him even less likely to eat.
Pictures and videos of Jobs looking emaciated began to appear online, and soon rumors were swirling about how sick he was. The problem, Powell realized, was that the rumors were true, and they were not going to go away. Jobs had agreed only reluctantly to go on medical leave two years earlier, when his liver was failing, and this time he also resisted the idea. It would be like leaving his homeland, unsure that he would ever return. When he finally bowed to the inevitable, in January 2011, the board members were expecting it; the telephone meeting in which he told them that he wanted another leave took only three minutes. He had often discussed with the board, in executive session, his thoughts about who could take over if anything happened to him, presenting both short-term and longer-term combinations of options. But there was no doubt that, in this current situation, Tim Cook would again take charge of day-to-day operations.
The following Saturday afternoon, Jobs allowed his wife to convene a meeting of his doctors. He realized that he was facing the type of problem that he never permitted at Apple. His treatment was fragmented rather than integrated. Each of his myriad maladies was being treated by different specialists—oncologists, pain specialists, nutritionists, hepatologists, and hematologists—but they were not being co-ordinated in a cohesive approach, the way James Eason had done in Memphis. “One of the big issues in the health care industry is the lack of caseworkers or advocates that are the quarterback of each team,” Powell said. This was particularly true at Stanford, where nobody seemed in charge of figuring out how nutrition was related to pain care and to oncology. So Powell asked the various Stanford specialists to come to their house for a meeting that also included some outside doctors with a more aggressive and integrated approach, such as David Agus of USC. They agreed on a new regimen for dealing with the pain and for coordinating the other treatments.
Thanks to some pioneering science, the team of doctors had been able to keep Jobs one step ahead of the cancer. He had become one of the first twenty people in the world to have all of the genes of his cancer tumor as well as of his normal DNA sequenced. It was a process that, at the time, cost more than $100,000.
The gene sequencing and analysis were done collaboratively by teams at Stanford, Johns Hopkins, and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. By knowing the unique genetic and molecular signature of Jobs’s tumors, his doctors had been able to pick specific drugs that directly targeted the defective molecular pathways that caused his cancer cells to grow in an abnormal manner. This approach, known as molecular targeted therapy, was more effective than traditional chemotherapy, which attacks the process of division of all the body’s cells, cancerous or not. This targeted therapy was not a silver bullet, but at times it seemed close to one: It allowed his doctors to look at a large number of drugs—common and uncommon, already available or only in development—to see which three or four might work best. Whenever his cancer mutated and repaved around one of these drugs, the doctors had another drug lined up to go next.
Although Powell was diligent in overseeing her husband’s care, he was the one who made the final decision on each new treatment regimen. A typical example occurred in May 2011, when he held a meeting with George Fisher and other doctors from Stanford, the gene-sequencing analysts from the Broad Institute, and his outside consultant David Agus. They all gathered around a table at a suite in the Four Seasons hotel in Palo Alto. Powell did not come, but their son, Reed, did. For three hours there were presentations from the Stanford and Broad researchers on the new information they had learned about the genetic signatures of his cancer. Jobs was his usual feisty self. At one point he stopped a Broad Institute analyst who had made the mistake of using PowerPoint slides. Jobs chided him and explained why Apple’s Keynote presentation software was better; he even offered to teach him how to use it. By the end of the meeting, Jobs and his team had gone through all of the molecular data, assessed the rationales for each of the potential therapies, and come up with a list of tests to help them better prioritize these.
One of his doctors told him that there was hope that his cancer, and others like it, would soon be considered a manageable chronic disease, which could be kept at bay until the patient died of something else. “I’m either going to be one of the first to be able to outrun a cancer like this, or I’m going to be one of the last to die from it,” Jobs told me right after one of the meetings with his doctors. “Either among the first to make it to shore, or the last to get dumped.”
When his 2011 medical leave was announced, the situation seemed so dire that Lisa Brennan-Jobs got back in touch after more than a year and arranged to fly from New York the following week. Her relationship with her father had been built on layers of resentment. She was understandably scarred by having been pretty much abandoned by him for her first ten years. Making matters worse, she had inherited some of his prickliness and, he felt, some of her mother’s sense of grievance. “I told her many times that I wished I’d been a better dad when she was five, but now she should let things go rather than be angry the rest of her life,” he recalled just before Lisa arrived.
The visit went well. Jobs was beginning to feel a little better, and he was in a mood to mend fences and express his affection for those around him. At age thirty-two, Lisa was in a serious relationship for one of the first times in her life. Her boyfriend was a struggling young filmmaker from California, and Jobs went so far as to suggest she move back to Palo Alto if they got married. “Look, I don’t know how long I am for this world,” he told her. “The doctors can’t really tell me. If you want to see more of me, you’re going to have to move out here. Why don’t you consider it?” Even though Lisa did not move west, Jobs was pleased at how the reconciliation had worked out. “I hadn’t been sure I wanted her to visit, because I was sick and didn’t want other complications. But I’m very glad she came. It helped settle a lot of things in me.”
Jobs had another visit that month from someone who wanted to repair fences. Google’s cofounder Larry Page, who lived less than three blocks away, had just announced plans to retake the reins of the company from Eric Schmidt. He knew how to flatter Jobs: He asked if he could come by and get tips on how to be a good CEO. Jobs was still furious at Google. “My first thought was, ‘Fuck you,’” he recounted. “But then I thought about it and realized that everybody helped me when I was young, from Bill Hewlett to the guy down the block who worked for HP. So I called him back and said sure.” Page came over, sat in Jobs’s living room, and listened to his ideas on building great products and durable companies. Jobs recalled:
We talked a lot about focus. And choosing people. How to know who to trust, and how to build a team of lieutenants he can count on. I described the blocking and tackling he would have to do to keep the company from getting flabby or being larded with B players. The main thing I stressed was focus. Figure out what Google wants to be when it grows up. It’s now all over the map. What are the five products you want to focus on? Get rid of the rest, because they’re dragging you down. They’re turning you into Microsoft. They’re causing you to turn out products that are adequate but not great. I tried to be as helpful as I could. I will continue to do that with people like Mark Zuckerberg too. That’s how I’m going to spend part of the time I have left. I can help the next generation remember the lineage of great companies here and how to continue the tradition. The Valley has been very supportive of me. I should do my best to repay.
The announcement of Jobs’s 2011 medical leave prompted others to make a pilgrimage to the house in Palo Alto. Bill Clinton, for example, came by and talked about everything from the Middle East to American politics. But the most poignant visit was from the other tech prodigy born in 1955, the guy who, for more than three decades, had been Jobs’s rival and partner in defining the age of personal computers.
Bill Gates had never lost his fascination with Jobs. In the spring of 2011 I was at a dinner with him in Washington, where he had come to discuss his foundation’s global health endeavors. He expressed amazement at the success of the iPad and how Jobs, even while sick, was focusing on ways to improve it. “Here I am, merely saving the world from malaria and that sort of thing, and Steve is still coming up with amazing new products,” he said wistfully. “Maybe I should have stayed in that game.” He smiled to make sure that I knew he was joking, or at least half joking.
Through their mutual friend Mike Slade, Gates made arrangements to visit Jobs in May. The day before it was supposed to happen, Jobs’s assistant called to say he wasn’t feeling well enough. But it was rescheduled, and early one afternoon Gates drove to Jobs’s house, walked through the back gate to the open kitchen door, and saw Eve studying at the table. “Is Steve around?” he asked. Eve pointed him to the living room.
They spent more than three hours together, just the two of them, reminiscing. “We were like the old guys in the industry looking back,” Jobs recalled. “He was happier than I’ve ever seen him, and I kept thinking how healthy he looked.” Gates was similarly struck by how Jobs, though scarily gaunt, had more energy than he expected. He was open about his health problems and, at least that day, feeling optimistic. His sequential regimens of targeted drug treatments, he told Gates, were like “jumping from one lily pad to another,” trying to stay a step ahead of the cancer.
Jobs asked some questions about education, and Gates sketched out his vision of what schools in the future would be like, with students watching lectures and video lessons on their own while using the classroom time for discussions and problem solving. They agreed that computers had, so far, made surprisingly little impact on schools—far less than on other realms of society such as media and medicine and law. For that to change, Gates said, computers and mobile devices would have to focus on delivering more personalized lessons and providing motivational feedback.
They also talked a lot about the joys of family, including how lucky they were to have good kids and be married to the right women. “We laughed about how fortunate it was that he met Laurene, and she’s kept him semi-sane, and I met Melinda, and she’s kept me semi-sane,” Gates recalled. “We also discussed how it’s challenging to be one of our children, and how do we mitigate that. It was pretty personal.” At one point Eve, who in the past had been in horse shows with Gates’s daughter Jennifer, wandered in from the kitchen, and Gates asked her what jumping routines she liked best.
As their hours together drew to a close, Gates complimented Jobs on “the incredible stuff” he had created and for being able to save Apple in the late 1990s from the bozos who were about to destroy it. He even made an interesting concession. Throughout their careers they had adhered to competing philosophies on one of the most fundamental of all digital issues: whether hardware and software should be tightly integrated or more open. “I used to believe that the open, horizontal model would prevail,” Gates told him. “But you proved that the integrated, vertical model could also be great.” Jobs responded with his own admission. “Your model worked too,” he said.
They were both right. Each model had worked in the realm of personal computers, where Macintosh coexisted with a variety of Windows machines, and that was likely to be true in the realm of mobile devices as well. But after recounting their discussion, Gates added a caveat: “The integrated approach works well when Steve is at the helm. But it doesn’t mean it will win many rounds in the future.” Jobs similarly felt compelled to add a caveat about Gates after describing their meeting: “Of course, his fragmented model worked, but it didn’t make really great products. It produced crappy products. That was the problem. The big problem. At least over time.”
“That Day Has Come”
Jobs had many other ideas and projects that he hoped to develop. He wanted to disrupt the textbook industry and save the spines of spavined students bearing backpacks by creating electronic texts and curriculum material for the iPad. He was also working with Bill Atkinson, his friend from the original Macintosh team, on devising new digital technologies that worked at the pixel level to allow people to take great photographs using their iPhones even in situations without much light. And he very much wanted to do for television sets what he had done for computers, music players, and phones: make them simple and elegant. “I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use,” he told me. “It would be seamlessly synced with all of your devices and with iCloud.” No longer would users have to fiddle with complex remotes for DVD players and cable channels. “It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it.”
But by July 2011, his cancer had spread to his bones and other parts of his body, and his doctors were having trouble finding targeted drugs that could beat it back. He was in pain, sleeping erratically, had little energy, and stopped going to work. He and Powell had reserved a sailboat for a family cruise scheduled for the end of that month, but those plans were scuttled. He was eating almost no solid food, and he spent most of his days in his bedroom watching television.
In August, I got a message that he wanted me to come visit. When I arrived at his house, at mid-morning on a Saturday, he was still asleep, so I sat with his wife and kids in the garden, filled with a profusion of yellow roses and various types of daisies, until he sent word that I should come in. I found him curled up on the bed, wearing khaki shorts and a white turtleneck. His legs were shockingly sticklike, but his smile was easy and his mind quick. “We better hurry, because I have very little energy,” he said.
He wanted to show me some of his personal pictures and let me pick a few to use in the book. Because he was too weak to get out of bed, he pointed to various drawers in the room, and I carefully brought him the photographs in each. As I sat on the side of the bed, I held them up, one at a time, so he could see them. Some prompted stories; others merely elicited a grunt or a smile. I had never seen a picture of his father, Paul Jobs, and I was startled when I came across a snapshot of a handsome hardscrabble 1950s dad holding a toddler. “Yes, that’s him,” he said. “You can use it.” He then pointed to a box near the window that contained a picture of his father looking at him lovingly at his wedding. “He was a great man,” Jobs said quietly. I murmured something along the lines of “He would have been proud of you.” Jobs corrected me: “He was proud of me.”
For a while, the pictures seemed to energize him. We discussed what various people from his past, ranging from Tina Redse to Mike Markkula to Bill Gates, now thought of him. I recounted what Gates had said after he described his last visit with Jobs, which was that Apple had shown that the integrated approach could work, but only “when Steve is at the helm.” Jobs thought that was silly. “Anyone could make better products that way, not just me,” he said. So I asked him to name another company that made great products by insisting on end-to-end integration. He thought for a while, trying to come up with an example. “The car companies,” he finally said, but then he added, “Or at least they used to.”
When our discussion turned to the sorry state of the economy and politics, he offered a few sharp opinions about the lack of strong leadership around the world. “I’m disappointed in Obama,” he said. “He’s having trouble leading because he’s reluctant to offend people or piss them off.” He caught what I was thinking and assented with a little smile: “Yes, that’s not a problem I ever had.”
After two hours, he grew quiet, so I got off the bed and started to leave. “Wait,” he said, as he waved to me to sit back down. It took a minute or two for him to regain enough energy to talk. “I had a lot of trepidation about this project,” he finally said, referring to his decision to cooperate with this book. “I was really worried.”
“Why did you do it?” I asked.
“I wanted my kids to know me,” he said. “I wasn’t always there for them, and I wanted them to know why and to understand what I did. Also, when I got sick, I realized other people would write about me if I died, and they wouldn’t know anything. They’d get it all wrong. So I wanted to make sure someone heard what I had to say.”
He had never, in two years, asked anything about what I was putting in the book or what conclusions I had drawn. But now he looked at me and said, “I know there will be a lot in your book I won’t like.” It was more a question than a statement, and when he stared at me for a response, I nodded, smiled, and said I was sure that would be true. “That’s good,” he said. “Then it won’t seem like an in-house book. I won’t read it for a while, because I don’t want to get mad. Maybe I will read it in a year—if I’m still around.” By then, his eyes were closed and his energy gone, so I quietly took my leave.
As his health deteriorated throughout the summer, Jobs slowly began to face the inevitable: He would not be returning to Apple as CEO. So it was time for him to resign. He wrestled with the decision for weeks, discussing it with his wife, Bill Campbell, Jony Ive, and George Riley. “One of the things I wanted to do for Apple was to set an example of how you do a transfer of power right,” he told me. He joked about all the rough transitions that had occurred at the company over the past thirty-five years. “It’s always been a drama, like a third-world country. Part of my goal has been to make Apple the world’s best company, and having an orderly transition is key to that.”
The best time and place to make the transition, he decided, was at the company’s regularly scheduled August 24 board meeting. He was eager to do it in person, rather than merely send in a letter or attend by phone, so he had been pushing himself to eat and regain strength. The day before the meeting, he decided he could make it, but he needed the help of a wheelchair. Arrangements were made to have him driven to headquarters and wheeled to the boardroom as secretly as possible.
He arrived just before 11 a.m., when the board members were finishing committee reports and other routine business. Most knew what was about to happen. But instead of going right to the topic on everyone’s mind, Tim Cook and Peter Oppenheimer, the chief financial officer, went through the results for the quarter and the projections for the year ahead. Then Jobs said quietly that he had something personal to say. Cook asked if he and the other top managers should leave, and Jobs paused for more than thirty seconds before he decided they should. Once the room was cleared of all but the six outside directors, he began to read aloud from a letter he had dictated and revised over the previous weeks. “I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know,” it began. “Unfortunately, that day has come.”
The letter was simple, direct, and only eight sentences long. In it he suggested that Cook replace him, and he offered to serve as chairman of the board. “I believe Apple’s brightest and most innovative days are ahead of it. And I look forward to watching and contributing to its success in a new role.”
There was a long silence. Al Gore was the first to speak, and he listed Jobs’s accomplishments during his tenure. Mickey Drexler added that watching Jobs transform Apple was “the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen in business,” and Art Levinson praised Jobs’s diligence in ensuring that there was a smooth transition. Campbell said nothing, but there were tears in his eyes as the formal resolutions transferring power were passed.
Over lunch, Scott Forstall and Phil Schiller came in to display mockups of some products that Apple had in the pipeline. Jobs peppered them with questions and thoughts, especially about what capacities the fourth-generation cellular networks might have and what features needed to be in future phones. At one point Forstall showed off a voice recognition app. As he feared, Jobs grabbed the phone in the middle of the demo and proceeded to see if he could confuse it. “What’s the weather in Palo Alto?” he asked. The app answered. After a few more questions, Jobs challenged it: “Are you a man or a woman?” Amazingly, the app answered in its robotic voice, “They did not assign me a gender.” For a moment the mood lightened.
When the talk turned to tablet computing, some expressed a sense of triumph that HP had suddenly given up the field, unable to compete with the iPad. But Jobs turned somber and declared that it was actually a sad moment. “Hewlett and Packard built a great company, and they thought they had left it in good hands,” he said. “But now it’s being dismembered and destroyed. It’s tragic. I hope I’ve left a stronger legacy so that will never happen at Apple.” As he prepared to leave, the board members gathered around to give him a hug.
After meeting with his executive team to explain the news, Jobs rode home with George Riley. When they arrived at the house, Powell was in the backyard harvesting honey from her hives, with help from Eve. They took off their screen helmets and brought the honey pot to the kitchen, where Reed and Erin had gathered, so that they could all celebrate the graceful transition. Jobs took a spoonful of the honey and pronounced it wonderfully sweet.
That evening, he stressed to me that his hope was to remain as active as his health allowed. “I’m going to work on new products and marketing and the things that I like,” he said. But when I asked how it really felt to be relinquishing control of the company he had built, his tone turned wistful, and he shifted into the past tense. “I’ve had a very lucky career, a very lucky life,” he replied. “I’ve done all that I can do.”