He was a billionaire entrepreneurial genius who created Apple and helped turn it into one of the biggest brands in the world. You might well be reading this story on a device he helped design.
But as two new films aim to show – the biopic ‘Steve Jobs’ starring Michael Fassbender and Alex Gibney’s documentary ‘Steve Jobs: The Man in The Machine’ – Steve Jobs, who died in 2011, wasn’t quite the benevolent humanitarian he was sometimes perceived to be.
He didn’t mind screwing over his friends
One of the best stories that Gibney talks about in his film is from when Jobs was just a lowly, but ambitious employee at Atari in the mid-1970s. The company asked him to produce a new game – the classic Breakout – with a super-tight turnaround. Luckily, he was friends with Steve Wozniak, a brilliant computer engineer who used to go over to Jobs’ house after a day shift at Hewlett Packard. Together, the pair worked night and day to build the game, with Woz, as he’s known, doing almost all the actual graft.
Later on, he wondered to Atari’s boss that it would have been nice to get better paid for doing such a good job. The exec replied that he had given Jobs a $5000 bonus. Woz was shocked – Jobs had told him they only got paid $700 and had written his mate a cheque for half that amount.
He could be a terrible parent
Danny Boyle’s biopic shows the difficult relationship Jobs had with his high school sweetheart Chrisann Brennan who he dated on and off for several years.
The movie has Chrisann showing up to some of Jobs’ Apple launches to beg for money after she gave birth to his daughter Lisa.
In Gibney’s documentary, Brennan (who refused to participate in the Boyle film) reveals that despite telling Jobs the baby was his, he initially refused to acknowledge it, although he did agree to call their daughter Lisa on Brennan’s suggestion, as well as naming the Apple Lisa system after her (at the time, he said it stood for Local Integrated Software Architecture).
Following Lisa’s birth, he continued to publicly deny paternity, alleging in legal documents her mother had slept around and that he was infertile. Finally, a court-ordered paternity test proved he was Lisa’s father. They later reconciled and by the time he died, they were close, she had changed her name to Lisa Brennan-Jobs and was a successful journalist. Lisa was consulted by writer Aaron Sorkin during the scripting of ‘Steve Jobs’.
He was ethically dubious when it came to business
Both movies suggest that when it came to his company, there was pretty much nothing he wasn’t prepared to do. Gibney highlights Apple’s dodgy sweetheart tax avoidance deal in Ireland, as well as Jobs’ public rebuffing of suggestions there were problems at the company’s China factory, such as multiple suicides, low wages and poor working conditions.
In the US, he colluded with other tech CEOs to stop employees being able to switch companies and was ruthless when he thought one of his “family” was being wooed by a competitor. Gibney’s doc points to a moment when someone in a rival’s HR department phoned an Apple employee and was fired following an email to that company’s boss from Jobs himself.
Several high-level employees of Apple such as Sir Jony Ive have criticised the fictional movie for how it portrays Jobs. “I don’t recognize this person at all,” the designer has said.
Jobs was known to be a harsh taskmaster - one former employee called it “management by character assassination” - and one scene in Boyle’s pic features him talking to engineer Andy Hertzfeld when something goes wrong just before a launch.
“This can’t be fixed in seconds,” says Hertzfeld.
“You didn’t have seconds. You had three weeks. The universe was created in a third of that time,” Jobs replies.
Adds Hertzfeld, “Well, someday, you’ll have to tell us how you did it.”
But Hertzfeld himself, who talked to Sorkin and admitted enjoying the film, told the LA Times that in it, Jobs is a “caricature”. He said, “It mainly showed Steve motivating people by intimidating them, but in real life he more often charmed or inspired them instead.”
Sometimes he thought he was above the law
The documentary reveals that thanks to a quirk in the California vehicle laws, Steve Jobs leased a silver Mercedes every six months in order to avoid putting licence plates on his car. He was also well-known around Silicon Valley for parking in disabled spaces.
It also investigates how Apple was engaged in various legal wranglings, most notably a scandal involving improperly-recorded backdated stock options that was used to pay millions to various executives while cutting the tax bill. Jobs denied knowledge of the activities, despite being one the people to benefit from the scheme.
He wasn’t that interested in charity
Woz has devoted much of his subsequent fortune to philanthropic enterprises as has fellow computer visionary Bill Gates. According to the documentary, Jobs… not so much. It talks about how while in charge of Apple he shut down pretty much all their philanthropic programs and colleagues say he never really thought about sharing wealth with the needy.
His loyal fans have always believed that he helped create Apple products to make the world a better place and to improve humanity. Director Alex Gibney ponders that idea, ultimately seeming to decide that it was part of the myth Jobs built for himself. People loved his products, not his character, but sometimes got the two confused.
As to how Jobs is portrayed in the doc. Apple software chief Eddy Cue told the Guardian it was “an inaccurate and mean-spirited view of my friend.”
‘Steve Jobs’ hits UK cinemas on 13 November. ‘Steve Jobs: The Man In The Machine’ is available on Blu-Ray, DVD and download now.
Watch the trailer for ‘Steve Jobs’ below.
Image credits: Rex Shutterstock/Twitter