Jul 092010

For many people, Apple Computer’s co-founder, Steve Jobs, exists on a higher plane than the one mere mortals occupy. It’s a peculiarity of our modern world that a gadget designer can find himself at the center of a personality cult.

Certainly, Steve Jobs’ uncompromising direction has played a huge role in Apple’s success.  However, out of necessity, Apple employees take a more pragmatic view of the world’s most famous Steve.

The collective company lore, primarily involving Mr. Jobs, is often passed down to new Apple initiates through a series of tales.  One such bit of verbal history unfolds as follows.

A young man entered an elevator at Apple’s 1 Infinite Loop headquarters located smack in the middle of California’s Silicon Valley.  Satisfied after waiting a few seconds that no one else was boarding, he pressed the button for the first floor.  Just before the elevator closed completely, a hand sliced through the narrowing gap, activating the infrared switches and separating the metal doors like Moses parting the Red Sea.  In stepped a purposeful man wearing a black St. Croix turtleneck, Levi 501 blue jeans and a pair of New Balance sneakers.  Preoccupied with thoughts of returning home after a hard day’s work, it took the young man a few seconds to realize that the older man standing next to him, alone in the descending elevator, was the iconic Steve Jobs.

Clearing his throat and attempting to be friendly, the young man chirped a common salutation.  “Hi, Mr. Jobs, how are you,” he queried in a quivering voice sounding about an octave higher than normal.  After a few awkward seconds of silence elapsed, the young man continued, “It’s a beautiful day today, isn’t it?’

Seeming slightly perturbed, the fruity messiah shot back, “So what have you done for Apple lately?’

Temporarily flummoxed by how his innocent elevator ride suddenly turned into a confrontation with one of the world’s most influential businessmen, the young man became distraught and distracted by how his own body could issue forth what seemed like a bucket of sweat instantaneously.  As the elevator bell dinged their arrival on the first floor, the young man suddenly stammered, “Well, I bought an iPod for my little daughter a couple of months ago.”  Smiling meekly at his quick thinking, he attempted to step towards the opening doors but was blocked by the spry Apple president.

Greatly feared throughout his Apple kingdom for his merciless, mercurial temper, Steve Jobs vibrated with anger while his face reddened to a ripe Macintosh hue.  Blood veins began to swell in his neck and forehead as if Mr. Jobs were transforming into a crimson Hulk.

Suddenly and inevitably Steve Jobs erupted, “Is that it? Is that the best thing you can come up with?”

The young man began to quickly realize that he was not handling this encounter well.  The small drop of aerosolized, Jobsian spittle landing in his right eye, blurring his vision slightly, was particularly distracting.

“Yes, I think so,” the young man embarrassingly admitted as he managed to maneuver around the increasingly irate CEO and into the lobby.

“Well, you’re fired!” Jobs shouted, halting the young man in his tracks.  Stepping out towards the young man, Jobs continued, “Go pack up all of your stuff and leave,” he said pointing towards the elevator.

“But you can’t fire me,” the young man insisted.

“Do you know who I am?  I’m Steve Jobs!  I run this company and I can fire anyone I want,” the Apple executive screamed.

“But you can’t fire me,” the young man asserted as a spirit of calmness began to fill him.

“Look, I don’t know who you are, but no one around here is too important to fire besides me,” Steve Jobs angrily asserted, “And you’re fired!”

“No, I’m not,” the young man retorted matter-of-factly.

Now only inches away from the young man’s face, Steve Jobs screamed, “And why not?”

The young man reached into his back pocket and pulled out a wallet.  Opening it, he pointed to an item held inside a clear, plastic flap.  “Because I don’t work here,” the young man stated quietly as he extracted his business card, “I was just here to fix a copier on the fourth floor.”

  15 Responses to “The Legend of Apple’s Steve Jobs: The Elevator Encounter”

  1. Haha, this made me laugh. I really hope this story is real.

  2. Most overrated CEO ever. Bleh.

  3. A friend from Apple told me this story. His version was less dramatic, but the key elements were the same.

  4. Then Jobs called the company he worked for and had him fired…

    • this never happened and you are making up to the story

      • This is what I was told by Apple employees who are my friends. — Oops, never mind! I see that you were responding to a different post.

        For the record, no one that I know ever claimed that Jobs had the man fired. I’m sure they would have told me that detail if it were true.

  5. […] For salesmen, the “elevator pitch”, has been a staple of their arsenal since companies started using elevators. Once again, the ability to concisely answer “Why am I talking to you?” Of course, the elevator pitch isn’t just for salesmen. Apple engineers are rumored to have needed one, just in case they ran into Steve Jobs and needed to justify their existence. […]

  6. Wonderful story, but years earlier this was told about the Australian press baron, Frank Packer, who allegededly “sacked” the boy delivering a post office telegram to Packer’s office. Jobs might well have been mercurial during his second coming at Apple, but in 1981 when I knew of him he was quite normal although keen to do his best for Apple.

  7. This story has become an urban legend with so many variations in content and dialog. Sometimes it’s a guy visiting his friend, here it’s a guy fixing a copier. Because the story keeps being embellished with each telling, I checked Snopes. Nothing there. There is nothing that confirms that this event actually took place. However, there are many similar stories about being in an elevator with Steve and being ready with something worth talking about.

    • This story came directly from multiple Apple employees and I have tried to report it faithfully. It is my understanding that it is often retold inside the company.

  8. The more of the story – take the stairs.

  9. […] to Apple lore, Steve Jobs once entered the elevator on the ground floor of Apple’s headquarters. The young […]

  10. […] the opposite. Steve Jobs was surly to the extent that his employees feared being fired if they shared an elevator, and viewers of The Social Network will recall Mark Zuckerberg’s first internet foray was a […]

  11. […] which almost got him fired a second time. By the way, there is a great urban legend about Steve trying to fire the copier repair man. It is way too close to the old joke about the captain and the lighthouse to be […]

  12. […] it as a learning from on top.  Exhibit the empathy and culture we want to see within our teams.  Hearing that story of an employee that was unable to define what their role was to Steve Jobs resulting in him being […]

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>