With success, a kinder, gentler Steve Jobs

Success, they say, mellows out even the fiercest of tyrants, making their dictates seem almost benevolent. Steve Jobs, the enfant terrible of yesteryears, whose unrelenting quest for perfection has driven many to Ole Tennessee or an asylum (whichever is closer) is showing signs of a kinder, gentler self, happy to share (within limits) the glory, and espousing the virtues of team work.

The timing isn’t lost on some, especially those with a more refined taste for the jugular. Apple, despite its recent tussles with the Securities & Exchange Commission, has been defying gravity, and today joined the $100 billion club, ending the day with $102.7 billion in market capitalization. Of course the elusive iPhone has mesmerized not only the fan-boys, but also the entire mobile industry.

At the D Conference today, twice he gave glimpses of the new Steve Jobs that stood out from his pontifications about iPhone, Apple TV, and the industry at large. He joked, he threw punch lines, and he was even nice to Bill Gates. He even admitted that he read Fake Steve Jobs, and some of the stuff is funny. (Shocking isn’t it? After all Apple went gunning for folks printing rumors about Apple’s products.)

In the brouhaha over iPhone, many missed this little quip from His Jobsness. “If you want to hire bright and creative people, you can’t over rule them. You can do that once or twice a year,” he told Mossberg in his chat with Walt Mossberg. (At this point, I muttered, something unprintable.) We all thought at Apple it was all Steve all the time.

We have seen the Mac faithful being hypnotized with his thespian skills, but at the D, he was the toast of a ballroom full of some bodies, proving that had he gone Hollywood, he would give George Clooney and Nicholas Cage a run for their money. He claimed Apple had two $10 billion dollar businesses – the computer and the music business – and will soon have another $10 billion business, the phone. Apple TV, which has received a lukewarm reception, was dubbed a hobby, something where many others before have failed before.

A hobby that merited an onscreen demo and press release…. Please even my inner fan boy refuses to buy that. Was it a Zen moment of spin? Or just another scene in a drama where Jobs will emerge as the savior? The digital Robin Hood so to speak? Or was it a bit of both.

At a gathering where profound utterances are as commonplace as exchange of business cards, Jobs dominated the conversation, impressing men (and women) who often grace the headlines of the same Wall Street Journal that was the host of the conference. Once again he is the center of the technology universe. And he did it his way.

It is hard to begrudge him his success. In his appearance with Bill Gates, my former boss, Josh Quittner noted, Jobs had the sweetest lines. Like this one, he uttered when looking at BillG:

“You know, I tend to think of things as Beatles or Bob Dylan songs. There’s one Beatles song that goes, ‘You and I have memories that are longer than the road that stretches out ahead.’ That’s clearly the case here.”

A moment of tenderness, or just a guy who knows that it is the last frame of the film that you remember forever. The evening ended with a standing ovation – there is no other way to cap a $100 billion day!

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