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Could There Have Been a Kinder, Gentler Steve Jobs?

Several women from Apple's early days tackle that question.

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Would a kinder, gentler Steve Jobs have been as effective?

Would a nicer Jobs have been able to get employees to work as hard? Could Jobs have gotten as much from suppliers or convinced skeptical business partners to cast their lot with Apple? For Jobs fans and critics alike, it is a tough question to answer.

 Moderator Katie Hafner (left), with early Apple employees Joanna Hoffman, Debi Coleman, Susan Barnes, Barbara Koalkin Barza and Andy Cunningham
Moderator Katie Hafner (left), with early Apple employees Joanna Hoffman, Debi Coleman, Susan Barnes, Barbara Koalkin Barza and Andy Cunningham
Ina Fried for Re/code

“I have spent so many hours of my adult life thinking about this issue,” said Debi Coleman, who worked on the early Mac manufacturing team under Jobs. “I go back and forth. I don’t have the right answer.”

Speaking to reporters after a recent panel featuring early female Apple employees, Coleman said that she wouldn’t want to give up his demanding standards or the creative tension, but perhaps some of his unreasonableness.

His reasonableness came later, countered Joanna Hoffman, the marketing executive portrayed by Kate Winslet in Aaron Sorkin’s film on the late Apple chief. “He was young. We all were. We were all unreasonable.”

Coleman and others said that, as much as they were inspired by Jobs, he also served as a role model on how not to do certain things. “I would just cry and I would say to myself you will never do that to a person you work with,” Coleman said. At the same time, those who thrived under Jobs learned the key was to stand up to him — and not be wrong.

Susan Barnes, who worked with Jobs at Apple and NeXT, noted that Jobs not only appreciated those who challenged him, but even those who disobeyed him — so long as they were right. Barnes recalled Jobs telling her: “The thing I love about you, Susan, is I tell you to do something and you either do it or you don’t.” That said, Barnes said it took her eight years to learn that method for dealing with Jobs.

In the end, it was Jobs’s talent and the fact that he was so often right. Hoffman also says she developed in her career a way of measuring people by their talent-to-hassle ratio.

“Since Steve’s talent was infinite, no matter how big the hassle ratio it was worth it,” Hoffman said.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.