Why Steve Jobs always ate lunch alone

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Every kid who has ever gone to high school knows the social anxiety that deciding where to sit in the school lunchroom can cause. Do you sit with the jocks? The preps? The dweebs? Or will no one let you sit at their table at all, forcing you to do the worst thing possible: Sit all by yourself, alone?

Most of us leave this problem behind us in high school, but not Steve Jobs. During his lifetime, Jobs was a visionary, a guru, a genius and a mentor to thousands of Apple employees. But in the Apple cafeteria, he was the guy that no one wanted to sit with. But it wasn’t because people thought he was a loser: They just didn’t want to get fired.

Speaking to Business Insider, David Black — a former senior consulting engineer in Java and WebObjects who worked for Apple for nearly 12 years — says that in the Apple Cafeteria, lunch was pretty much over within 15 or 20 minutes of Jobs entering the room.

“No one would fill the seats near him,” Black said. “Just because you wanted to be ready for that moment.”

It turns out that Jobs actually wasn’t that much of a lunchroom tyrant, but he did have a dark sense of humor, and often asked employees what they were working on. Sometimes, that would just stress people out, afraid that they would end up with a bull’s-eye on their chest if they answered the question wrong.

But sometimes, Jobs would actually screw with people’s minds:

In a separate instance, Jobs asked an intern what he had been working on while in the elevator. He mentioned that he was doing QA (quality assurance) for a product. Jobs then asked him, “Why are you going down? You should be going back up to work.”

“The kid completely went pale-faced,” Black said. “And Steve said ‘Hey, just kidding.'”

This does not appear to be a problem that Jobs’ successor, Tim Cook, has. In fact, individuals regularly pay upwards of $600,000 to have lunch with Cook.

  • http://www.techmalak.com/ Matthew Barnes

    I would have been scared too man. Steve was known for firing people on the spot he thought couldn’t cut it anymore

    • ajvizz

      But Steve would have liked the person with the balls to sit with him.

    • ImFatWannaParty

      I would need one of those “Permission to speak freely” deals he gave to people like Johny Ivy during his second run.

      • http://www.techmalak.com/ Matthew Barnes

        Exactly

  • CamoBits

    Imagine if Jobs got to read one article about how Apple is today and it’s this article that reads in the last paragraph “… In fact, individuals regularly pay upwards of $600,000 to have lunch with Tim Cook.”

  • http://www.4TechSake.net/ Ron Rains

    I LoLed at this: “The worst thing possible – sitting alone”. I’d always sit alone, and people who weren’t scared of me would come and sit to chat. They’d be from all walks of life: Jocks, Preps, Freaks, Dweebs, Foreign exchange students – you name it. It’s why still, to this day, I have a diverse multi-verse of social circles. Never follow the crowd – make the crowd follow you.

    And from what I gather on Steve Jobs – despite being a visionary and having a very sharp and bright mind – the guy lacked social skills, big time. I’ve avoided capricious people my entire life, so I can definitely understand why people were scared to sit with him. Job security is hard to come by. Kind of sad, if you think about it.

    • mahadragon

      Jobs was lacking in a lot of ways but social skills definitely wasn’t one of them. Crazy comment. Just watch Jobs do his thing at any Apple conference. He’s the consummate salesman, he was incredibly charismatic. You can’t get people to follow you if you don’t have social skills. Nor will you be able to communicate your ideas with others, which Jobs was very good at. Now Jobs could be an insensitive jerk, but that is a totally different thing than lacking social skills.

      • http://www.4TechSake.net/ Ron Rains

        Crazy? Why? Just because you disagree? – I love this name calling right out the bat. It definitely adds so much to the argument…

        You don’t need social skills for people to follow you. People follow a tyrant. That doesn’t mean he has social skills, that just means people are scared of him. Jobs, lets face it, was a little bit of a tyrant around the workplace, and – as the article suggests – rather enjoyed it.

        Salesman, keynote speaker extraordinaire, a great communicator – all of these testify to a brilliant and charismatic personality. Yet social skills refer to how well you deal with people in a 1v1 situation. How you deal with people on a personal level. And on that level, Jobs clearly had little to no social skills.

        They way he treated his daughter Lisa for example: Denying she was his. Him crying and screaming in work related situations, the examples are endless, really. “You’re holding it wrong”. Yeah, those are social skills, all right. Bad social skills.

        So before you start calling someone crazy, you’d better be ready to back your own argument up, lest someone smarter that you makes you look stupid. See what I did there? – probably not :)

      • LordQuad

        Ron nailed it. Mahadragon you’re mistaking ‘social skills’ for charisma. The latter, he had it. The former, maybe one of the worst when it comes down to CEO or principal/executive leadership of a major corporation. I’m a big fan of Steve but social skills don’t get you ‘to the top’ or make you a “consummate salesmen”. See Vegas for details;). Or ‘Fight Club’ for that matter. Good luck sir means….;)
        Sorry, but I’m with Ron here.
        LQ

      • http://www.4TechSake.net/ Ron Rains

        I just want to state for the record that I have great reverence and admiration for Steve Jobs (I don’t call myself a fan, since I don’t consider myself a fan of anything or anyone). The man truly had brilliance about him, and it manifested itself in many glorious ways.

        My one caveat though is social skills. The man was simply bereft of them. You can appreciate the man for many things, but you can’t ignore his flaws, otherwise you start delving into the realm of apotheosis.

  • MikeEvangelist

    Like many articles about Steve, this one only includes facts which fit its predetermined world view. The reality was not so black & white. I often saw other people eating with Steve in the cafe. In fact, I sat with him a few times while I was at Apple.

  • Karlheinz Groeger

    I was in Cupertino 12 years ago, for several weeks, and more than once we saw Steve sitting in the cafeteria with more than a couple of people.

  • jeffsters

    Sorry this is BS…the majority of the time I’d see him eating lunch with Jon or any number of other people. I don’t think I ever saw him eating “along”.

    • tweisbach

      You’re right, but then this article distorts what is said in the Business Insider article.

  • Ameer Gittens

    PEOPLE PAY $600,000 TO HAVE LUNCH WITH TIM COOK!?!? WHAT A SCREWED UP SOCIETY YOU HAVE BECOME!!!

    • LordQuad

      You’re not part of our ‘society’? How did you register?

  • Steve R.

    Total BS article. When Jobs ate in the cafeteria, he ALWAYS had people sitting with him. The only face I recognized during my 10 years there was Phil Zimmerman, but there was always someone he was deep in conversation with.

  • http://www.robgadv.com/ RobG

    If Steve were around today and I worked at Apple, I would ask if I could sit with him. Then I’d either get to know him or get fired. Either way, it’d be fun. :)

About the author

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is a Contributing Editor. He has also written for Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, VentureBeat, and Gizmodo. He lives in Boston with his wife and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

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