Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs is filled with a lot of personal anecdotes about what the charismatic Apple co-founder and ex-CEO was like in his personal life… and most of them were not very good at making Jobs look likable or human.
That’s why I was grateful to see this thread pop up on Quora, in which Tim Smith, the principal at the Applied Design Group talks about the time that Steve Jobs, his son and Laurene Powell Jobs tried to fix his car back in the 1990s… along with a mysterious man in a tuxedo who looked eerily like James Bond.
Smith’s story is too long to quote in full, but essentially, back in the 90s, he drove an old British sportscar called the Sunbeam Alpine, which happened to break down in front of the Jobs’s Palo Alto house. As Smith tried to figure out the problem, he heard a voice call to him:
As I was putting my jacket on, I heard a call from across the street behind me – the Jobs’ driveway – “British or Italian?”. It was Jobs’ lovely wife Laurene. “British,” I said, “and acting like it.” “You want a beer?,” she said. I tried to decline (shocked I guess at first), but she insisted, said “you’re not going anywhere”, and walked back in the house – only to return with two bottles of beer.
After fussing over the Alpine for a bit, Laurene Powell Jobs decides to call a friend of hers, who knows about Sunbeams. It turns out to be a mysterious man who pulls up in a limousine, looking impossibly dapper in a tuxedo.
Then Steve Jobs wanders out with one of his kids, and decides to help out:
So I have to stop here – it’s a Kodak moment – something you want to remember. It’s a beautiful Fall evening in Palo Alto. Your car’s broken. A formally dressed close friend of Steve Jobs is under the hood working on your engine. You are talking with Steve’s absolutely lovely and down to earth wife. Steve is in the car, with his kid, trying to crank it.
That’s the moment. You don’t often get close to people like the Jobs, much less in a ridiculous situation like this, where you realize that they are just really good people. They’re normal, funny, charitable, real people. Not the people the press talks about. Steve is not the maniacal business and design despot the media loves to portray – well he is, but not always. These were real, nice, people.
But still Steve Jobs. The car didn’t start. James Bond got his tuxedo back together, apologized to me (!) for not being able to fix it. Said it was the electrical (of course). They said their goodbyes and departed in their giant silent black car. Steve said something like “piece of shit” as he got out, and walked back into the house. Classic Steve – he was right.
A week later, Smith went back by the Jobs’s house, and dropped off a six pack along with a note saying “thanks.” If only we knew what kind of beer it was: a beer the Jobs drinks seems like a beer worth drinking.