Last night president of Pixar Ed Catmull and Oracle CEO Larry Ellison sat down with Kara Swisher and Walk Mossberg at the D10 conference to chat about Apple’s late CEO and co-founder Steve Jobs.
Ellison did most of the talking, and that’s not really surprising given that Jobs and Ellison were good friends having met as neighbours in Woodside. Ellison recalled how they met, telling the following story: “We met when we were neighbours in Woodside. His peacock had wandered into my property and woke me up. Then Jobs said, ‘I'm gonna tell her [his girlfriend] how much you hate this peacock, so we can get rid of it. You gotta back me up.’”
The two CEOs spoke about the reasons for Jobs success, touching on Jobs personality and how he interacted with people. They also spoke about what made Jobs so unique.
Discussing what set Jobs apart, Catmull said: “He truly was unique… Most people don't have the facility to look at things the way Steve did.”
Ellison summed up what made Jobs so unique: “Obsessive-compulsive personalities are not all that rare. But combined with his design sense...” Later emphasising: “If you have that kind of obsessiveness, combined with Picasso's aesthetic and Edison's inventiveness...”
Speaking about how elements of Jobs’ personality helped him enjoyed the success he did, Ellison said: “Steve had a singlemindedness and an attention to detail unlike everyone I've ever seen. He was a bit of a control freak. A little bit. He wanted to control every aspect. Including how you pay for an item in a store. Or what it looked like in a box. Or how you bought an app, or connected to the Net. Every excruciating detail. Edison said genius was 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration. Steve was a god. He worked tirelessly.”
Ellison continued: “Steve would just not let go of a problem until it was solved. I would tell him, ‘I'm not coming over to watch Toy Story again.’ I said, I know that Renderman is now 4% better, but I don't care. And Steve would say, "But the shadows are so much better!"
“That was Steve, until it was perfect. And then once it was perfect [sigh of relief.] And then he moved on to the next problem. Working incessantly until it was done, that was Steve,” said Ellison.
Getting from a good idea to a finished product was a particular skill of Jobs, according to Ellison, despite the fact that Jobs wasn’t a programmer. Ellison explained: “There are a lot of good ideas. Translating a good idea into a great product is unbelievably hard. There are so many details… Steve would translate good ideas into a finished product unlike anyone in the industry.”
He added: “Steve wasn't a programmer. But he had enough knowledge of what went into the product. Very smart boy. He learned very fast.
And then there’s the fact that: “Steve was brutal. He desperately wanted Apple to be great,” as noted by Ellison.
Wanting Apple’ to be great didn’t necessarily translate into Jobs wanting Apple to be the most valuable company in the world, but he achieved that too. Ellison said: “Apple became the most valuable company on earth and it wasn't even one of Steve's goals. He was obsessed with the creative process and building something beautiful,” noting that Jobs’ focus was always on making the best product, not making the most money from selling a product.
That’s not to say he wasn’t pleased with the financial implications of Apple’s success, he saw that as an indication that he was making the best products. Ellison noted: “He called me up when Apple passed Oracle in market cap...He noticed and he was proud of it. It was just kind of a measure that he was doing the right thing. Therefore what he was building was in fact beautiful.”