Steve Jobs handles public encounters with a mixture of brazenness and celebrity caution, according to people who sent us stories about their run-ins with the Apple CEO. Read their tales—and send us yours—below.
People began telling us about their Jobs run-ins after our post yesterday speculating that the CEO staged his outdoor coffee with Google CEO Eric Schmidt and that he must have known the citizen paparazzi would be out in force. After all, we reasoned, Jobs elaborately choreographed an earlier visit to the New York Times, even sending advance teams (we hear) to make sure he didn't have to wait for an elevator.
From the fresh reports our tipsters have supplied, it sounds like Jobs is aware of his celebrity and pragmatic about dealing with the effects, but doesn't allow it to keep him from spontaneous meetings.
Of course, it probably goes without saying that Jobs' trips to malls, newspaper offices and cafés are not particularly interesting in and of themselves, even to Apple fanboys. That's especially true now that the secretive Apple boss has resumed his practice of public tech demonstrations; Jobs sightings were an especially hot commodity when the CEO was on leave and investors had no pictures to fuel their speculation about his physical health.
Jobs' public encounters remain somewhat interesting, however, because of the executive's unique stature. No other business leader commands as much public celebrity, and as the Schmidt incident and countless keynotes show, Jobs' fame can be a powerful tool for shaping public perception. On the flip side, Jobs' celebrity must be a challenge: His very mandate as CEO is to make sure his company anticipates the rapidly shifting tastes of its consumers. In short, to make sure it does not lose touch with the very crowds that are sometimes poised to mob Jobs.
Here's one story of Citizen Steve from a veteran of one of New York's Apple stores:
I used to work at one of the Apple Stores here in the city. He was scheduled to come in, we didn't know exactly when. He got out of a town car out front, walked in, and right up to me - shaking my hand and saying, "Hi, I'm Steve Jobs! Is XXXXX (name of the store manager) here?"
When I said he was and called him, [Jobs] said he was going to run to the bathroom first - and went to the customer's bathroom (which anyone can use - and isn't exactly the cleanest). He came out, walked right back up to me, and started talking about the store.
After about 5 min customers around us starting walking up asking to take pictures, and asking questions, when he promptly asked to be excused and left - back to the car and away.
We had all heard stories about his desire to not shake hands (he offered first), his desire to not be in public (he spent his entire time in full view in open areas of the store) and his general shitty attitude (he was super nice and cordial).
Just something I thought of when reading your article.
All that being said, the company is security crazy.
Also, Jobs has been known to go to an ordinary movie theater, though it sounds like he's not very familiar with the one in his hometown of Cupertino (where he grew up and where Apple is based):
About a week before the iPad was officially unveiled, I was in Cupertino walking to my car in an AMC parking lot and I hear someone behind me ask, "Excuse me, which direction is the movie theater?"
I turn around and am face to face with Steve Jobs and his wife.
Although I was completely stunned that 1) I was talking to Steve Jobs in a parking lot and 2) it was just him and his wife going to a movie (I figured that with his money he would have his own private theater or something), I gave him directions and he was on his way.
What was particularly funny about the incident was that in addition to me working very closely with Palm at the time, I was very vocally telling my girlfriend how awesome the Palm Pre is over the iPhone when he approached me.