In 1996 I was covering spot news from a closet in The Wall Street Journal’s San Francisco bureau when the phone rang. It was Jobs, offering to comment on Pixar’s earnings. It seems crazy in hindsight, but this was near the end of Jobs’ long season away from Apple. Pixar had the previous November released its first big hit, Toy Story, and in the same month had an IPO that beat Netscape as the year’s biggest. That heat had cooled, Woody and Buzz weren’t out on video yet, and with no second film in sight there wasn’t much news in the earnings. The paper had scheduled the story as a brief. Jobs picked up the phone himself, pointed things out, offering quotes, selling me, getting Pixar a bigger story in a so-so quarter.
It was kind of surreal, having a legend work to get his one-inch story made into three inches. If it bothered him, he didn’t show it. Jobs was already a billionaire from the Pixar IPO (the Disney purchase of Pixar, which tripled that, was years away), but at that moment he was a guy striving to get his company a little more attention, a little better position. He wasn’t dogged, he wasn’t irritated, he was focused on the thing he could do in that moment that would push his company forward. And, of course, it worked.
It’s not much of an anecdote, but it shows a couple of things. Jobs is someone who never gives up on details, never stops making that next call, pushing one more thing a little harder. It is a habit of his greatness.
One time he talked about how his habit of email exchanges with strangers who write him. It was a whim, he said: He was up one Thursday at 1 AM working on a presentation for the following Monday, and this kid’s note popped in, so… The real point is, Here is a guy who’s up late working on his material days ahead of time. Most chief executives look at a speech somebody else wrote about 20 minutes before they give it.