How a Fortune photog won an argument with a raging Steve Jobs

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Doug Menuez Steve Jobs
Jobs photos made for a bestselling cover.
Photo: Doug Menuez

Standing up to Steve Jobs wasn’t easy. Alternately a charmer and a tyrant, he was accustomed to winning arguments on just about everything.

But when photographer Doug Menuez found himself on the receiving end of a Jobs tirade, he stood his ground. And the result was not only the best-selling cover of Fortune magazine that year, but a newfound level of respect from Apple’s famous co-founder.

“I’m pretty proud of this moment, as I won an argument with the mighty Steve Jobs,” Menuez told Cult of Mac. “If I could do this, anyone could who was willing to fight to the death for their idea. That’s what I learned watching him with his engineers. It really was all about trust with Steve, and he wanted people who were willing to stand up to him. That was his acid test for deciding who to trust in order to make big decisions that would be based on their advice.”

A Steve Jobs photo shoot at NeXT

I contacted Menuez recently when an autographed copy of his Steve Jobs issue of Fortune went up for auction. (It ultimately sold for $16,638.) Menuez, a celebrated photographer whose book Fearless Genius is a “must own” for fans of Steve Jobs and computing history, said getting the photo was a whole lot tougher than you might think.

Menuez said he arrived at NeXT Computer two hours ahead of his 1989 appointment to photograph Jobs for the magazine cover. (This was in the years after Jobs’ departure from Apple when he was running NeXT.)

He wanted to snap Jobs next to the floating staircase architect I.M. Pei designed for NeXT’s lobby. (This staircase was later used as the basis for the glass staircases seen in Apple retail stores around the world.) Menuez started setting up lights, only for Jobs to turn up in a terrible mood.

Steve Jobs Fortune photo: Steve Jobs looks calm and cool here. Minutes earlier he hadn't been.
Steve Jobs looks calm and cool here. Minutes earlier he hadn’t been.
Photo: Doug Menuez

A terrible idea… or not

“He took one look at my setup and announced, ‘This is just stupid. We are not doing this,'” Menuez recalled.

Jobs then got in Menuez’s face and yelled, “This is the stupidest fucking idea I’ve ever seen!” By this point, everyone else had vanished from the room.

Menuez said he thought it was a great idea. But Jobs insisted that it was stupid. He started pacing up and down, occasionally returning to scream some more.

“I was absolutely terrified,” Menuez said. “Despite having been shot at, kidnapped and threatened at knifepoint during my news career, I felt as if I was 10 years old.”

But he kept repeating quietly that he thought it was a good idea and that, having shot six covers for Fortune before, Jobs could trust him. Finally, Jobs spat out, “You just want to sell magazines.”

Menuez looked at him and said, “And you just want to sell computers.” Jobs laughed and then said, “OK, great. Where do you want me?”

Steve Jobs Jobs wound up laughing with Fortune photographer Doug Menuez
Jobs wound up laughing with Doug Menuez.
Photo: Doug Menuez

How to win an argument with Steve Jobs

“Later he told me it was a good picture, but he wished he’d gotten his hair cut first,” Menuez said.

He said that, in his view, Jobs’ tendency to “snap at people or say shocking things … was his instinctive way to see what you were made of when he did not like what he’d heard or seen that you were presenting. And if you understood this, had done your homework and had matured as a human being, you could probably win an argument with him.”