When former Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs passed away in early October, the media erupted with features of his numerous accomplishments, news stories of his last activities and even books that described the life of the influential genius who died at age 56.


When former Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs passed away in early October, the media erupted with features of his numerous accomplishments, news stories of his last activities and even books that described the life of the influential genius who died at age 56.
One story emerged from the perspective of a nationally known, locally grown journalist who might have known him better than most others who attempted to summarize Jobs’ unique personality and business style.
Brent Schlender, a 1972 McPherson High School graduate, knew Jobs for 25 years and recently described his experiences with the businessman in an October 2011 edition of “Fortune” magazine.
Throughout his career, during which Schlender penned four cover stories on Jobs, the journalist began to understand the complexity of his subject. He learned describing him was like peeling an onion.
“There are many layers to that onion,” he said. “His true nature was very complex and very hard to write about. He kind of liked it that way, liked the fact that people couldn’t figure him out. He was a master at showing you what he wanted you to see.”
Regardless, Schlender could see the genius inside.
“(His passion) wasn’t technology, but what you could do with it that he was passionate about,” he said. “Making that experience with technology as easy and beautiful as possible. The aesthetics of how technology was applied  — that’s what really made him different.”
Schlender says much of his uniqueness stemmed from his artistic ability to find a solution to a problem that felt natural in its use, even though no one had ever thought of it before.
“Everybody talks that talk,” he said. “The reason they do is because he demonstrated it.”

Schlender’s
beginning
Schlender passion for writing that led him to interviews like this started at a young age, and it began in McPherson. His first journalism experience was writing for the “High Life,” McPherson High School’s newspaper.
“Being in the real world, I realize what a great background I had,” he said in a Sentinel story from 2002. “The town made a huge difference. I got a lot of breaks in college, but none of them would have mattered if I didn’t have that background. I’m a product of McPherson.”
Those breaks in college refer to the internships obtained during graduate school at Kansas University. One was at The Wall Street Journal, which later offered him a full-time position.
During the next decade, Schlender moved around, writing for WSJ Bureaus in Dallas and Hong Kong and eventually moved to San Francisco in the late 1980s to become its lead technology reporter.

Technology boom
It was through this venue he first met Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.
San Francisco was the gold mine for the technology explosion that was rapidly gaining speed. And Schlender was amid it all, writing history as it happened.
“That was the most exciting place and that was business that was going to generate the most wealth for people and change the way we were going to live our lives,” he said.
Schlender had majored in computer science and linguistics during his undergraduate studies at KU and the booming industry was right up his alley.
“I was fascinated by it,” he said. “It was a natural thing to me and a much easier thing than it was for others.”
At the time, neither Jobs nor Gates were well known.
“I got myself in the right place at the right time,” he said. “It’s been really interesting to have a front-row seat, to watch history be created. And the people were just plain fascinating people too, that made it really special.”

Jobs, the
business man
One of those fascinating people was Steve Jobs.
Schlender said he “hit it off” with Jobs and Gates because they were of similar age, experience and interests.
“It was kind of like talking to one of your college friends,” he said.
Over time, including Schlender's employment change to editor at large of “Fortune” magazine that lasted 20 years, he developed a relatively positive relationship with Jobs.
There were times that Jobs would call with an earful regarding Schlender’s latest write-up, but that didn’t stop him from letting Schlender get a little closer than others. On one occasion, Jobs invited Schlender and his young children to his home to watch a film that would later be “Toy Story.”
This rendezvous, partially meant as marketing research for his company, Pixar, is an example of the businessman's focus.
“That was very friendly of him, but he did it for a reason,” Schlender said. “That’s a hard thing to get across to people. They’re so driven, that everything happens for a reason.
“You can never get that close to him because the No. 1 thing on their mind is moving things forward. You can be friendly, have fun together, but the reality is that the reason you are talking to each other is because both of you have a job to do.”

At the end
Schlender said he had been asked to write a book about Jobs before his death, but never felt like he was ready. He was unsure of what to say and felt Jobs still had many opportunities to accomplish more.
“Companies reflect the personalities of their leaders, and Apple as a young company had weird, unbalanced aspects to the corporate personality just as Steve did,” he said. “Toward the end, it was a company that fired on all cylinders. That is not an easy thing to build, and he did that. He learned and grew as a business leader and created a very well-oiled machine.”
Schlender now realizes how difficult it would have been to summarize that lifetime.
“In hindsight, that would have been the hardest thing in the world…when he was dying right in front of your eyes,” he said. “It was probably better for somebody with a little more distance.”
After 25 years of knowing Jobs, Schlender said his death hit him a lot harder than he thought.
“We were just close enough to being friends that it really hit me when he died,” he said. “The memorial service was hard, to think he was really gone.”