Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader

Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader

Posted by jack_miller | Published a year ago

With 888 ratings

By: Brent Schlender, Rick Tetzeli, et al.

Purchased At: $18.00

There have been many books - on a large and small scale - about Steve Jobs, one of the most famous CEOs in history. But this book is different from all the others.

Becoming Steve Jobs takes on and breaks down the existing myth and stereotypes about Steve Jobs. The conventional, one-dimensional view of Jobs is that he was half genius, half jerk from youth, an irascible and selfish leader who slighted friends and family alike. Becoming Steve Jobs answers the central question about the life and career of the Apple cofounder and CEO: How did a young man so reckless and arrogant that he was exiled from the company he founded become the most effective visionary business leader of our time, ultimately transforming the daily lives of billions of people?

Drawing on incredible and sometimes exclusive access, Schlender and Tetzeli tell a different story of a real human being who wrestled with his failings and learned to maximize his strengths over time. Their rich, compelling narrative is filled with stories never told before from the people who knew Jobs best and who decided to open up to the authors, including his family, former inner circle executives, and top people at Apple, Pixar, and Disney. In addition Brent knew Jobs personally for 25 years and drew upon his many interviews with him, on and off the record, in writing the book. He and Rick humanize the man and explain, rather than simply describe, his behavior. Along the way the book provides rich context about the technology revolution we all have lived through and the ways in which Jobs changed our world.

Schlender and Tetzeli make clear that Jobs' astounding success at Apple was far more complicated than simply picking the right products: he became more patient, he learned to trust his inner circle, and he discovered the importance of growing the company incrementally rather than only shooting for dazzling, game-changing products.

I've been curious to read Becoming Steve Jobs ever since I reread the authorized biography. Written by two journalists, it basically asks the question, if Steve Jobs really was a complete ass - a narrative he helps to feed in the Isaacson biography, how did he manage to help create and run two companies that really did change the world - Apple part II (the Mac, iPod, iTunes, iPhone, and iPad), and Pixar.

The authors of Becoming Steve Jobs don't shy away from mentioning all the really asinine things Jobs did and continued to do, but they also detail how he evolved, learning from his failures at Apple and Next, becoming an effective and visionary leader. A big change they feel occurred at Pixar, where Jobs met and worked with Ed Catmull, who showed him how to manage creative people (the mentor he never had), without stifling them. Catmull's book, Creativity Inc is also a must read.

In the end, the authors feel Jobs used those things he learned from his failures, and his time at Pixar, to take Apple to amazing heights. So if you hate Steve Jobs, you should read this book, and if you love Steve Jobs, you should read this book. A big thumbs up.

- brooks_brown

A cloud of myth and mystery surrounds one of the most successful businessmen of our times. Mostly because he was an ordinary guy and very private with his personal time. Authors Rick Tetzeli & Brent Schlender have been careful in their research and balanced in their assessments. This is a great read. It doesn't make Jobs out to be a hero, a villain nor superhuman and neither does it trash him because of his well-publicized temper or mis-steps early in his career. The authors simply lay out the facts and essential background and turn Jobs into the ordinary guy he always was. I note that some of Steve's colleagues from the early days of Apple take offense at the authors' comments about the early Apple - they complain the books trashes the early machines and give short shrift to the early days in Apple. I do not read it this way. It's a good balanced biography. You'll come out liking Jobs more than you did when you watched the movie - you may have admired him after Isaacson but you'll feel you walked a little way in hs moccasins after Tetzeli & Schlender. I have a friend who said they have more respect for Bill Gates because at least he's giving away his money to do some real good around the world and is not just hoarding it to make more. But I respect Steve Jobs because he didn't just ride a wave, he made all our lives better and changed society into the bargain: Apple, Pixar, Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Mac's, Mac/OS, iPod, iTunes, iPhone ... not a bad start for changing my world!

- tomas_jimenez

This is a fascinating biography that I enjoyed very much, but before getting into the details of the book itself I want to quickly go back in time to when Steve Jobs died on October 5, 2011 (it's hard to believe that three and a half years have already gone by since that date). At that time, the Walter Isaacson biography (Steve Jobs) had already been written.

Jobs had agreed to be interviewed by Isaacson over the course of the final two years of his life, and when Isaacson's biography of Jobs was published less than three weeks after his death, on October 24, 2011, it immediately became a bestseller. His book was taken as the most thorough and authoritative description of Jobs that had been written. It did have the cooperation of Jobs himself, and did become the benchmark biography of Jobs (until today). It pulled few punches in describing Jobs volatility throughout his life and in managing his businesses. The view of most was probably that the Isaacson book was tough but fair, because the stories of how difficult Jobs could be were well known and undisputed.

Now that a couple of years have gone by and people have had a chance to adjust to Jobs death and reflect, it turns out that there was a need for a more balanced look at his life, one that doesn't overlook his failings but also gives more credit to not only his great technological leadership but also his humanity and his great talents as a leader of men and women. Especially interesting are the stories of his growth as a person, and how he did learn to be more understanding and compassionate in dealing with people. We learn through reading this book that this was something he acknowledged and worked hard at improving. He knew he had faults and he tried to limit them (not always successfully). We are all aware of his accomplishments - he led and inspired (and demanded) the talented people at Apple to innovate and exceed their own expectations time after time, and although he was a stern taskmaster he also drove them to design and engineer products that were sensational to use and experience. They were transformative to industries. Jobs may not have been perfect, nobody is claiming that, but these things do not happen solely through bullying, there has to be more to it than that.

And there is more to it than that. This new biography of Jobs brings out those other aspects of Jobs life and personality. And no doubt it benefits from the time that has gone by since his death, which has given everyone involved a chance to get some distance from the events of his life and put them in perspective.

This book also has an even more significant difference, I feel: the authors, Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli, are two gentlemen who have known the computer industry and Jobs for many years. Schlender in particular had a relationship with Jobs that spanned almost 25 years. He did not meet Jobs for the first time when they began working on the book (and this is one of the most important differences in comparing this book to the earlier biography, because Isaacson did not know Jobs prior to working on that book, and he did not have the strong background in the computer industry that both Schlender and Tetzeli possess. He was, and is, an accomplished and well respected biographer and business executive, and among other things has been the CEO of the Aspen Institute for a number of years). Bringing out this personal connection right at the beginning, the book starts with Schlender talking about his first meeting with Jobs, in April of 1986, when he was working for the Wall Street Journal and stationed in San Francisco and he drove down to Palo Alto to meet with Jobs at the NeXT headquarters.

A couple of years ago, when Schlender and Tetzeli approached Apple with their plan to write this book, they were not able to obtain the cooperation of the company or its executives. Then, after a year and a half of continued effort, the door was finally opened. They were able to meet with Apple people, as well as with Jobs widow, and the resulting fresh materials, together with the notes and documents they had already gathered, going back many years, gave them an unequalled resource of information to produce this new biography.

This book provides a more comprehensive look at Jobs full career, not just the Apple years (parts I and II). There is a great deal of material describing his time at both NeXT and Pixar that I was unfamiliar with. Those years when he was separated from Apple were very important in understanding and illustrating the evolution Jobs went through as a manager and as a person over the course of his life. The executives Ed Catmull, and John Lasseter at Pixar, and Bob Iger at Disney, for example, were very influential to Jobs and this was interesting to read about. (This is a time period of his life that was almost completely overlooked in the earlier Isaacson biography).

This 13-year period, beginning in September, 1985, when Jobs resigned from Apple after John Scully essentially stripped all of Jobs responsibilities from him, until late 1998 when he returned to Apple following Apple's acquisition of NeXT and the removal of Gil Amelio as CEO, is covered in detail in this book and was, to me, most interesting. It was during this period that Steve tried unsuccessfully to reproduce the magic of the Mac in the new NeXT computer, acquired a creative and well-functioning team at Pixar that resisted his micromanaging and taught him how to more skillfully lead a high performing creative group. It was also during this time that he met his future wife, Laurene Powell, married and began to raise a family. Pixar achieved it's first major success when the movie Toy Story was produced in 1995; that eventually led to his return to great wealth when Pixar was sold to Disney. All of these experiences combined over time to produce a more thoughtful and measured manager who, by the time he was asked to lead Apple again, was a far different person than the imperious and demanding 20-something who had co-founded Apple and then skyrocketed to fame and fortune when he was probably too young to handle it.

And while some are now criticising this book as being more forgiving regarding Jobs, especially when compared to the Isaacson biography, I'll add one story that speaks volumes to me regarding this 'other side' of Jobs. When he returned to Apple in 1998, he faced a terribly difficult situation, the company had it's least inspiring product lineup ever, employee morale was seriously depressed, and there was a desperate need to chart a path to recover the magic that the company had held in its early days. In one of his very first leadership decisions at Apple, in learning that the stock options of the employees were all 'underwater' and valueless, he insisted that the board re-issue all those employee stock options so that they were priced at the stock value on July 7, the day that Amelio's firing was made public. He informed the employees of this in an 'all hands' memo that went out over his signature, a singular move that immediately revitalized the financial prospects for the companies employees. And he had no personal stake in that decision, because at that time he had no personal stock options of his own. The depth of his dedication to the employees of Apple could not have been more clearly shown than it was in that single action.

As I read this book, having read many other stories about Jobs and having a familiarity with his life and how it developed, it can be both sad and frustrating to read once again about his failures and mistakes. At NeXT, for example, recounting the many errors made - selecting expensive magnesium for the computer case, requiring it to be built as a cube with sharp edges rather than easier to manufacture rounded corners, building the state-of-the-art factory in Fremont that would never be used to its full capability - I found myself lamenting that he hadn't been able to learn those lessons of management and discipline earlier in his life. A great waste, in many respects. Still, it is a part of his story (and a number of the innovations from NeXT would go on to live well beyond those days). Great leaders always talk about how their failures were critical to their development. Likely he would not have grown into the man he eventually became if he hadn't made those mistakes, painful though they are to replay. He was just 30 when he began NeXT, 33 when the first NeXT computer was unveiled, in grand Jobs extravaganza style at the Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco. He was world famous and yet still a very young and immature man. The attention to detail and importance of design that was so important to him from the very beginning, even when it was impossible to implement or led to products that were too expensive to succeed commercially, would blossom in later years as the iPhone and other devices were developed and led to Apple's greatest successes.

To me, the most moving story from the book was when Tim Cook realized that he and Jobs had the same blood type. That meant that Cook could potentially help Jobs fight his illness by donating a part of his own liver. But Jobs wouldn't even consider it, and the deep personal nature of that exchange, between those two men and at a time when Jobs realized that his remaining days were dwindling, was very poignant. The last part of the book is especially sad as we live through his final days, when he knew that his time was coming to an end.

There are many other interesting stories here, some of which can be found elsewhere in the other reviews or on the internet already, as the early reviews are out and most of them share favorite stories or new insights that were gained from reading the book. I'll just add that this is a very human portrayal of Jobs, it is one that I believe will appeal to people who like to read biographies of business leaders, people who are fans of Apple and are looking for more insight into how it works and the people behind the products, and it will also appeal to readers who are interested in what makes a brilliant leader tick, how does the mind work and what magic must take place in order for those visions to become manifest in products and in a company that, soon after Jobs death, became the largest in the world.

I also think that it is remarkable to see the support that Apple executives are now putting behind this book now that it has been released. Tim Cook, Apple's current CEO and Jobs hand-picked successor, Jony Ive, Apple's long standing head of design, and Eddy Cue, Apple's head of software and internet services, have all endorsed it. A cynic might view their praise of the book as support of something that may help to reshape Jobs image in a more flattering light, but I think that there is more to it than that. This book does not whitewash Jobs or overlook his faults.

My earlier comparisons to the Isaacson biography, which until today may have been the benchmark for a Jobs biography, may sound like too much of a criticism of that book, so I will add that anyone interested in Apple and the story of the company and of Steve Jobs is probably going to want to read both books. I purchased the Isaacson book as soon as it came out, and I'll probably go back and read it again now. There are portions of Jobs life and Apple history that are covered in the Isaacson book and not so much (or at all) in this new book. I think that one of the other reviewers makes the point that the two books should be viewed as complimentary, and I think that is the right way to look at it.

By the time of his death, Steve Jobs had become an icon of the business world, having achieved a stature that only a few American business executives have ever reached (Jack Welch at GE being perhaps the most recent, prior to Jobs). This is a fascinating look at him and his company, and after reading it I have the feeling that I may be just a bit closer to understanding what he was like. I wouldn't try to claim that this book is definitive - Jobs was complex enough and accomplished so much during his life that no single biography is going to provide everything that could be written about him. I do have the feeling that it may be the closest yet.

- reina_hernandez

I had already read the book about Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, so hesitated to buy this one. But after reading so many good reviews, I decided to. And I'm so very glad I did. While some parts were understandably repetitive, this one seems to explain the man he was so well. And left out a lot of the bad language of the other one. What stands out the most is that Steve grew and matured to a person that cared about you and me, and truly wanted to make the world for us better. When the iPod came out, Being frugal, I didn't want to buy songs, even at 99 cents. So bought an MP3 that allowed me to record songs from the radio. I enjoyed it. Later I bought a tiny iPod Nano and couldn't believe the improvement in the sound. I still have it and now also have the iPod Touch. I love both. Music is very important to me. So reading about the person who helped found Apple means a lot. Steve Jobs cared about the ordinary people and brought us joy. He had many flaws but in my opinion was a very good person, loved by so many.

- nash_chavez

Easily the most comprehensive, well-researched, well-written and *objective* biography of Steve Jobs I've read. Much better than the authorised version by Walter Isaacson, unfortunately. Really gets to the detail of how and why Jobs came to be where he was, and how the skills and insights he had - many present very early on in his career, albeit in rough or unfocussed form - were sharpened and refined over time.
Benefits greatly from the authors' experience and technical literacy to properly understand the subject matter, whilst presenting a complex and often convoluted sequence of events in a clear and engaging way. Highly recommended.

- spencer_howard

Had so much more depth than Walter I's biography: delves deeply into the shades of grey rather than using broad strokes to rehash the same stories told by every Jobs biographer. Reading the book, you will find that those milestones, which were the support beams for other stories, fade into the background, and the intent and the motivations of Steve come through with a much sharper focus. Must read, even / especially if you have read the others.

- jesse_bennet

Got this this because of the good reviews. Sorry to say I find it lacking, the first chapter did little to inspire me to read on, although I did. The writing style I have found to be one that is hard to follow. Whilst there is a lot of good information, the writing style and lack of material to invigorate the reader has left me rather disappointed.

- rose_green

A great insight into the maturation of one of the leading lights of the tech industry. The story is told in a compassionate yet honest tone that makes this a compelling and enjoyable read.

- april_evans

I haven't read the official biography by Walter Issacson but I liked this one and I discovered a Steve Jobs that I could never imagined.

- edwin_young


- jonah_diaz

Really enjoyed this book. Have read a few books on Steve Jobs and this one seems to cover a complicated man with some skill and depth. Some duller parts but a few previously unknown stories and some very honest comments from close friends make this book better than many others on the subject.

- sincere_gutierrez

Superstar creating roses glassed view in the main - some insights, some candid- and better than most stories of Steve - but I don't feel I still know the real man

- bryan_martinez

An interesting book. But too much detail. So much so, at times it was boreing!

- daleyza_hall

Very good biography depicting how Steve Jobs became such a symbol. He is even more fascinating than what most people think.

- kaiser_lewis


- elaina_wood

enjoyable read and authentic

- grey_robinson

Really interesting read... I couldn't put it down! I found it to be a well written and balanced account of Steve Jobs, the man and Steve Jobs, the power behind Apple. Nice to get the perspective of someone who interacted directly with him for many years and could see the good and the bad and then set it out in such a clear way. I haven't read the other biographies.. and I doubt I will now.

- blake_ortiz

enjoyed this book better than the official biography. Interesting perspective of a great leader's life

- briar_richardson

Gives another side to Jobs that other sources do not. In this book, you do see the 'jerk' but you do see the human. This becomes clearer towards the end, in his second round at Apple.

- aria_martin

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