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Leading Apple with Steve Jobs – Jay Elliot

Swinnerton: To start of can you give us a little background on where you are from, where did you grow up?

Elliot: I am a fourth generation Californian and grew up on a 1000-acre ranch on the Monterey Bay with 3.5 miles of beach frontage. We raised milk cows and grains, cows are milked twice a day at 5am & 5pm, and I started doing that when I was 8 not great as a teenager. My great, great grandfather was the roommate of US Grant at West Point and fought in the Indian wars and civil war. He won the battle of Vicksburg for Grant. My family came by wagon train to California in 1846 before the gold rush and before it was a state. Originally they came to the US in 1680 and founded Hartford Conn.  They also fought in the Revolutionary war as well as the Civil war and all wars except Vietnam, my war and I did not go. Gives you a small insight to my work ethics. Our ranch was called Ano Nuevo, it is now a California state park as is most of my families property.

Swinnerton: Can you tell us about your career leading up to Apple?

Elliot: I started my career as a software programmer at IBM when I finished college at San Jose State University. I took a computer programming class in college using a 1440 IBM computer; cell phones have more power than that computer. I got an A++ and my professor got me an intern job at IBM. I mover up the management ranks, after only really programming for about 6 months. I eventually took over IBM’s programming lab in San Jose but IBM kept pressuring me to move to NY, not what a Cal native wants to do. So I called up Andy Grove the CEO of Intel and went to work for Intel. I did not like Intel they are a hardware technology manufacturing company, not for me. I then met Steve Jobs and joined Apple.

Swinnerton: How did you get the job at Apple?

Elliot: By chance I met Steve Jobs in a café in Los Gatos California, where I live and at the he lived at the time we met in 1980. I was waiting for my wife in the lounge area and he sat next to met and we started talking.  At the time I did not know who he was and I did not know of Apple. That turned into more of an interview and I was recruited and went to work for Steve at Apple. The greatest opportunity I ever could have imagined. Steve professed to not liking IBM so he had to get beyond my IBM background, but saw the entrepreneur in me. My first day on the job was a Saturday and Steve wanted to show me something, so we got in his car and drove to Xerox PARC and he showed me their Star system, with a mouse, screes fonts, etc..That was the beginning of the whole Mac revolution in computing.

Swinnerton: What role or roles did you perform at Apple?

Elliot: I was the Vice President of Administration and managed all the admin functions for Apple (Real Estate, Planning, HR, Education, IT) Corporate working for Steve, he was the Chairman/CEO.  Apple was organized into 4 groups, Apple II, Liza, Mac, and Peripherals’ also worked for Steve in the Macintosh Division as an advisor for Mac Software development, Steve was also President of the Mac group.:

Swinnerton: How was it to work so closely with Steve Jobs?

Elliot: It was fantastic, he was the most energetic leader I was ever associated with. His vision for changing the world was very inspirational and the ability to innovate was very energizing. Steve was also a great communicator and you knew exactly where you stood at all times. He was very consistent about solving all the users issues, and making technology a part of humanity. What was important was to be you and give real answers, good or bad at all times. As Steve said “I want to make sure people will also give me the bad news”

Swinnerton: From what I have read, you seemed as a mentor to Steve but what do you think you learned from him?

Elliot: The greatest lessons I learned from him where that your focus is the product and the user, nothing else is as important as that. Secondly, forming small teams of highly talented people was the secret.

Thirdly, along with these talented people was maintaining a start up mentality across the organization. “Be Pirates not the Navy” as Steve put it.

The product centric organization was the key to Steve’s philosophy, and you need to have the passion to make great products, it’s not about the money.

Swinnerton: What inspired you to write the book – Leading Apple with Steve Jobs?

Elliot: After my great career working with some great leaders (Tom Watson-IBM, Andy Grove and Gordon Moore at Intel) I wanted the world to understand not only did Steve make great products but there were important lessons to be learned form his incredible leadership. I did not like the Isaacson book; it made him look like a “jerk”. There was no luck that Apple did so well when Steve returned, he always was a great leader and was equally concerned about the company and it’s people as he was about the products. I don’t expect readers to be clones of Steve but hopefully they can learn from some of his management principles. That is why I wrote the book. In fact one of the big decisions I had to make in going to work for Steve was working for this ‘Kid”. I was 14 years older than him. I made the right decision.

Swinnerton: After Apple I noticed you got very active in the entertainment industry. Why did you go in that direction and what are some of the projects you worked on?

Elliot: I was the founder of Apple Corporate TV; we broadcasted all corporate events to the employees all over the world.

Secondly, I had been interested in TV broadcasting and while in college worked as a disc jockey at a radio station in Monterey. While in college I also went to Hollywood and attended the Columbian school of Broadcasting, so I had a passion also for the TV industry.

I took over a failing TV production company in San Francisco after I got thrown out of Apple. Yes, John Sculley fired me after firing Steve. I disagreed with his decision to move Steve out and went around him to the Board of Directors and told them they were making a big mistake. That eventually also got me fired.

At San Francisco Studios I produced a lot of sports show for the CBS, football, skiing, etc. In 1990 I produced a documentary, “Berkeley in the Sixties” and was nominated for an academy award that year. At my studios I was one of the first production companies to use Avid non-linear editing. I also produced a TV show for NBC that was a big hit “Midnight Caller”. One of the biggest mistakes I made was moving to Los Angeles and becoming the CEO of a production company down there, I was not really part of the industry and eventually that failed and I moved back to Silicon Valley and back into my real background, technology.

Swinnerton: Can you tell us about what you are doing now with Nuvel Holdings, Inc.?

Elliot: Nuvel Holdings, Inc, is a software company I founded about 3 years ago. There are two companies involved; Nuvel’s product is data acceleration software, similar to WAN acceleration. We have a data tunnel to accelerate all data that goes into the tunnel between two servers anywhere in the world. We get up to 100 times speed depending on the pipe size and distance. Our second offering is an app company that builds apps for family safety. Our current product is vSOS a unique emergency response system. It is on iPhones, Android and in their app stores. I invented this as the result of a friend who had a stroke and lay on the floor for 12 hours before he was discovered. This is a better app with much greater use to all, from 10 years old to the elderly and much less expensive than Lifeline as an example. Our app was recently endorsed by Rush Limbaugh and we had so many downloads it over powered our server. We took the company public at the first of the year and we are traded on the exchange as NUVL.OB, little volume, however since most of the stock is privately held.

Swinnerton: So how do you think Tim Cook is doing and what are some of the biggest challenges do you think he will will face leading Apple?

Elliot: I think Tim is following the direction and roadmap that Steve set before he died. With Steve there was always a 3-year roadmap as part of his vision. I was critical of his handling of the Mapping issue on the iPhone 5, but since we now know that he took decisive action to make sure that does not happen again, I am impressed. Tim has a very good team and he is a very good leader and communicator. So I think Apple is still going in the right direction. The big advantage he has is the Apple Culture, which I outline in my book; it is very strong and really supports innovation. Apple is a product centric company and making sure the products are of high quality and very user friendly is what he has to keep in mine. Since Apple in on such a high pedestal, however, I would hope to see more communication from Tim so there are no surprises in the market. The big challenge for Tim is getting products to the market. Basically, Apple has commoditized technology, now its all about content and platform.

Swinnerton: Can you give us a quick Steve Job story that showed his management style?

Elliot: When the first Mac was introduced there was not a printer in the market to handle the graphics Mac was able to produce. Steve then said we need to find a printer that can do great graphics. After looking in the market it was clear there was not a printer or the software to handle printing graphics. So Steve went to Adobe to build the software and then said now we need to quickly develop a printer. He challenged his engineers to figure how we could do this. They came up with the idea of sending an image to a laser copy machine, embed a Mac board to receive the image and then print it. Steve liked the idea and arranged for a flight to Japan with the engineers to find a laser copy machine that would work. After reviewing several machines the Canon laser copy machine was selected and the technology worked. We also had to get Canon to not put their logo on it and not see how the Mac board was installed. Steve negotiated all of this and the Apple LaserWriter was born and so was Post Script the software needed. When this first came up the Apple engineers said it could not be done, Steve did not see the barriers to innovation and his leadership was very apparent in most situations.

Learn more about Jay Elliot at –

Interrogated by:
Matthew Swinnerton
Twitter – @Swinnerton

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