A different job
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A different job

How does a genius whose last days are upon him tie up loose ends in his personal and professional life? This exclusive extract from Karen Blumenthal’s new book on Steve Jobs gives us an insight.

books Updated: Feb 11, 2012 16:49 IST
Hindustan Times

Steve Jobs could push his teams to develop amazing products and he could whip up a frenzy for their creations. He was able to keep new products so secret that only a couple of dozen people at Apple might know what they looked like. But among all the things he could control, he couldn’t control his cancer.

In 2008, his health began to decline as the disease spread into his liver. He was uncomfortable and in pain.

In addition, the combination of cancer therapies, strong pain medicine, and his own lifelong food habits made it difficult for him to eat well. He began to lose weight. Despite his struggle, he continued to lead an innovation machine. Even as Apple was introducing new iPods and iPhones, it was also remaking its Macs with new creations, like the ultra-lightweight and portable MacBook Air, introduced in early 2008. The personal computer business, which so many people had declared dead a decade before, still was alive and kicking at Apple.

Even as Jobs faced his own mortality, he didn’t mellow or become more reflective, not at the office or with his family. While he had to know his time was limited, he never could step away from his work. He went to Hawaii with his family in spring 2008, but even then, he agreed to an interview with Fortune reporter Betsy Morris while he was there. When they were done, he asked Morris to turn off her recorder. Then he made a painful confession: “I love my family. And I come here every year. I want to be here,” he said. “But it's hard for me. I’m always, always thinking about Apple.”

But his condition was deteriorating. He lost forty pounds in the first half of 2008 on a frame that was already thin, upsetting his family. Worries about his gaunt appearance had reporters and investors speculating about the health of the top executive who didn’t just run Apple, but was Apple. At first, the company attributed his weight loss to “a common bug.” Then, it told reporters and anyone else who asked that Jobs’ health was “a private matter.” In truth, as Jobs’ form of pancreatic cancer spread, the body essentially began to consume itself, deteriorating and weakening. Jobs’ liver was being taken over by the disease. That same year, the American banking system faced its worst financial crisis in the last century. Apple’s stock price fell to a low of about $85 at the end of 2008, related to both fears about Jobs’ health and a deep plunge in the overall stock market. Late in the year, Jobs cancelled his planned appearance at Macworld which got tongues wagging again. In a public statement in early January 2009, he blamed his problems on a “hormone imbalance.” Finally, later in January, he took a formal medical leave of absence.

In 2009, Jobs also began to work with former Time magazine editor Walter Isaacson on his biography. For the first time in decades, Jobs allowed a journalist full access to his work, family life, and reflections.

Jobs’ cancer doctor had warned him for months that he might need to consider a liver transplant. Finally, in January 2009, he was placed on a waiting list in California. But the need for organs there was so high that his chance of getting one in time was slim. To hedge his bets, he also went on the waiting list for a transplant in Memphis, Tennessee. It was a good call. In March, he got a call from Memphis that the liver of a young man killed in a car crash was available.

Jobs flew there immediately, and the surgery went well. But, Isaacson wrote, the doctors found cancer throughout the liver, as well as the membrane surrounding the internal organs. Given the spreading cancer, the transplant wouldn’t be a cure. Cancer cells were almost certainly in other spots in the body. Instead, the transplant primarily bought more time.

Replacing a liver is a long and complicated surgery, and recovery was slow. Jobs had to get up and start walking again, initially holding on to a chair. He got better and returned home at the end of May. In early June, Jobs began having meetings at his home and by the end of the month, he returned to the office, starting his first day right where he had left off — with a string of tantrums.

The new liver hardly changed his behaviour at all. He still sent food back as inedible and humiliated people in public. When one of his longtime trusted colleagues would pull him aside and try to remind him to be gentler, he would say he was sorry, that he got it. Then it would happen again. “It’s simply who I am,” he said.

In November 2009, Fortune named him “CEO of the Decade,” saying, “the past decade in business belongs to Jobs.” Calling him “a showman, a born salesman, a magician who creates a famed reality-distortion field, [and] a tyrannical perfectionist,” the magazine noted that in ten years, “he has radically and lucratively reordered three markets — music, movies, and mobile telephones — and his impact on his original industry, computing, has only grown.”

In January 2010, still looking thin, he returned to the stage to introduce the iPad, a touch-driven tablet with prices from $499 to $829. The usual enthusiastic response to a new Apple product was muted. Without a keyboard, the tablet didn’t really replace a computer. It did many of the same cool things that an iPhone did, but it didn’t fit in your pocket. Some reviewers and even prospective customers had a hard time seeing what it was for. After it arrived in April, the tune changed. The tablet might not have had a lot of clear uses right away, but it was a marvel to hold and play with.

Apple sold 7.5 million iPads between April and the end of September 2010. Altogether, with that new product, the fast-growing iPhone, and revved-up Macs, Apple’s sales topped $65 billion in its fiscal 2010 year-end. It had grown 50% in one year, and its profits reached $14 billion. Then, in May 2010, Apple became the most valuable technology company in the world. Based on its stock price, investors valued it at $222 billion, just past Microsoft’s $219 billion. While Microsoft’s value would pretty much stand still through 2011, Apple’s would roar ahead, closing 2011 at $376 billion. Jobs, however, was focused on other things, the personal goals he had set to push through his illness. He was building an elegant yacht that he hoped to someday travel on with his family. Jobs realised that if he didn’t keep planning for a future, he wouldn’t have one. He and his son, Reed, adored each other, and he dearly wanted to see Reed graduate from high school. He reveled in the moment when it came in June 2010, emailing from the ceremony, “Today is one of my happiest days.”

Jobs’ relationship with his daughters was more complicated. Lisa, now in her thirties, came to visit him twice in Memphis. Then she and her father went through another month without even a phone call. In 2011, she came back to Palo Alto to see him. His youngest, Eve, on the verge of her teen years, was willful and determined like her dad, and was the one who was most effective at letting him know what she expected. Erin, in her mid-teens, desperately wanted to go to the Oscars with her father in 2010, but he wouldn’t hear anything of it. But Jobs was able to fulfil a promise to take her to Japan. Erin had the chance to eat sushi and soba noodles with her dad and visit Zen Buddhist temples, a special bonding experience. She acknowledged to Isaacson that her father wasn’t always very attentive, but said that was okay. “I know the work he’s doing is very important,” she said. “I don’t really need more attention.”

By late 2010, the cancer reared up again. For a time, Jobs was unable to eat and had to be fed intravenously. He was weak and in increasing pain. His weight fell to 115 pounds, more than fif

First Published: Feb 11, 2012 16:49 IST