I had a great chance to meet the great Steve Wozniak in Singapore last week.
Many may consider him the lesser of the 2 Steves who founded Apple, but he is certainly the humbler.
For what he has achieved and accomplished (and for what is worth financially), he is a remarkably humble and down to earth man.
I attended a key not by him and was then fortunate enough to attend a much smaller lunch meeting with him.
At the keynote, he spoke (at light speed) about his story. He spoke from points he had written down on paper (as reminders only). No powerpoints, nothing choreographed, just a simple engineer speaking about what he has achieved in life (so far).
He told of how he and Steve Jobs started Apple … its well recited, so no need to repeat it here, but the insights came from hearing this from his own personal point of view. The Woz is an engineer. A very creative engineer. He built Apples success from an engineering point of view by finding new and creative ways to produce a computer with limited funds. He talked passionately about how this lack of cash was the key to their success. They didn’t have the luxury to buy standard parts and components like everyone else, so they had to find a way. This made them more efficient and in fact cheaper than everyone else, and they ended up with a better (technical) product. Then Steve Jobs packaged and marketed this like noone else and the rest is well known history.
As Apple grew to what is now the largest company in the world, The Woz is still a shareholder there and still an employee there, but he doest get involved or interfere in the business. He remains an engineer at heart and not a business man. He is told that his electronic pass at the Apple campus is “all access”, but he has never tested it and doesn’t enter the secret development room to see what is going on. He prefers to see Apples finished products when they are launched, just like any other consumer. He also acknowledges that the development of iPhones and iPads has gone well beyond his scope and openly confesses that he doesn’t believe he can contribute (engineeringly) to the development team, so he doesn’t try and get involved!
Following the keynote, about 20 of us had the privilege to sit with him at lunch and he was a remarkably warm and open man. No heirs and graces and a willingness to discuss anything and everything. One parent brought a 10 page presentation that her 10 year old son had made “documenting” his vision of the iPhone 5. She asked if Steve would sign this, and contrary to what I believe most people in his position would have done (give it a cursory glance, sign it and smile), he took it and read it in depth and then wrote a half page summary of his views on this little boys presentation. The boy will be chuffed (and encouraged) beyond belief, and what a heart The Woz showed with this action!
I had my chance to ask him some questions, one of which being about how he spent his time, and he remains a lover of engineering and gadgets. He carries 7-8 phones with him at all times (he is a fan of Android!) and at a point he had 9 GPS navigation devices in his car and compared them for performance and accuracy … and by process of elimination got down to the one he uses today.
I asked him about future iPads and iPhones, and he told me (repeated from his speech) that he doesn’t access the secrets room in Apple, so he doesn’t really know. Whether that’s true or not, I will never know, but he did indicate that he doesn’t believe that Apple has any products planned beyond 2 years out (so Steve Jobs direct influence could still be well felt until the end of next year).
Lastly, and perhaps most amazingly, The Woz has a desire to affect people and make a difference in the world. I professed that his contribution at Apple has already done this in spades, but he shies away from accepting this. Instead he told me of how he know teaches 5th grade school kids hoping that he can have an impact on at least one of them … and then he will feel he has made a difference!
A couple of hours in this mans presence, and he has made a profound impact on me. He is a genius beyond any dount. A financial success beyond any doubt, but he is also a very fine and decent human being without any doubt.
Steve Wozniak … it was a pleasure.