Jay Elliot has been part of Apple during its first incredible growth, in the early Eighties. He met Steve Jobs in a restaurant and was offered a job, where he became a Senior Vice President
The rest, as they say, is history, and Elliot has chronicled those years and his thoughts about Steve Jobs and Product Marketing in “The Steve Jobs Way”, a book he cowrote with William L. Simon.
I had the chance to speak a bit with him during his promotional tour for the italian edition, which was published by Hoepli.
Stories of Apple: How long were you at Apple?
Jay Elliot: I was at Apple from 1980 to 1986. Late part of 1980 to the late part of 1986.
SoA: And what was your role?
JE: I was Senior Vice President of what they call the “operation side”.
I really focused on the human side of the company so I kept that title when I had the IT operations and the financial operations… I ran sort of the administrative engine of Apple on the job but I also worked in the Mac group directly for Steve. [...] I really had two jobs.
SoA: Was Jef Raskin still there when you worked for the Mac group?
JE: Raskin was there but then he left. The funny thing about Jef Raskin was a very bright man, very interesting guy but [he] saw no future with the mouse. Amazing. He wanted to use [just] the keyboard.
SoA: How many people were employed by Apple when you started out there?
JE: At the time I started there was about twelve people [in the Mac group]. They worked in a place called Texaco Towers, which is a small little building but then it built up to about forty people pretty fast and Andy [Hertzfeld] joined the group. He had been in the Apple II group [...] things were sort of moving pretty quickly.
We needed a head of engineering so I brought on a guy named Bob Belleville. Bob is an interesting guy, by the way, he really could stand up to Steve pretty much. [...]
SoA: I read about Bob Belleville in Andy Hertzfeld’s book as a person who had to mediate between engineers and other parts of Apple. But I know there were problems with some of the engineers…
JE: Right, right. It was interesting because Bob was really keen to get in [...] He was a PhD and just a very very brilliant guy [...] Bob had a way of really being able to – as best as he could – facilitate this interaction.
SoA: Do you think Bob Belleville could be described as the “Project Manager” of the Macintosh project?
JE: Yes, right. yes.
SoA: Apple uses the “Product Marketing” term, which is quite peculiar. Can you explain what does that term mean at Apple?
JE: Basically, the secret of what I believe was the success of Apple has been the product. Steve is the product guy. It is what I call a “product-centric organization” so everything is built around the product. Product Marketing is really the liaison between the product and marketing and sales. There’s that extra step to make sure the features of the product aren’t lost in this translation into getting it into the market. [...] It’s a “during the process” thing, it’s [about] integrating any changes or anything that comes out of [say] the marketing group and maybe needs to be considered in the product itself.
Sometimes it’s good. In the early days in Apple it was not good [...]. Ultimately [John] Sculley organized [Apple] in a more functional way: he just set up one marketing department for all of the products. [But] That doesn’t work.
SoA: So you think that the unification of Apple’s resources [done by John Sculley] was a problem?
JE: Right, [not] being product-focused but being more Apple-market focused
SoA: Which other people were important in the early stages of Apple?
JE: Mike Murray came in [and he] was a very bright marketing guy, he was really critical. The bad news about Mike was [that] he didn’t really understand [...] the problem Apple had in those days with the Mac, [that] they totally mis-focused it. They focused against IBM in the business market: big mistake! Even Regis McKenna who was the guru of all PR and was the branding part of Apple, he [also] totally mis-focused the Macintosh.
JE: Absolutely. Look what happened as soon as Steve left Apple. That was a big mistake [...] Mac sales weren’t doing well, and for a good reason, cause [what they addressed] really wasn’t the right market. Steve goes off to [do] NeXT, another corporate product which is very expensive to a market that [also] wasn’t really a great market. That was a failure but when he came back at Apple, with his Pixar experience [...] he understood “Hey, I’m a consumer guy”. When he came back, the biggest acceleration was from finding that he has always been a consumer guy. He just got off track. You know, I blame Sculley for that. And I blame Mike Murray. He’s a very bright guy, a good guy, very critical about the whole thing how the Mac was positioned in the bags and the logo and all of the graphics but [he] missed what the market was really about.
SoA: And what can you tell me about Jean Louis Gassée?
JE: Ah, Jean Louis! [laughs] I was involved in setting up [Apple in] Europe [...] I actually brought Jean Louis in. He had been an Apple dealer there [in France] and he was really into Apple products. And then Mike Spindler hapened. Mike Spindler was a incredibly great international marketing guy. [...] He was brilliant at international programs. Unfortunately he got put out of his realm and… when they made him President of Apple I couldn’t believe that. [...] Jean Louis is brilliant. He’s a typical frenchman, machiavellian. He’s the one who blew the whistle on Steve when Steve tried the coup and Steve was pissed off at me ’cause I disagreed with that, I wouldn’t [root for him]. I said that’s a stupid thing to do: if you want Sculley out of hear, walk to his office, and [tell him to] get the hell out. You’re the chairman of the board, I mean, the guy is not doing his job, so…
And when he didn’t do that I went to the Board of Directors to warn them about Sculley [...] and ultimately that cost me my job. [...] The board was just [interested in] economics, stock price and the future of the enterprise.
SoA: Don’t you think that getting out of Apple, experiencing failure [at NeXT] and then being reborn as a successful manager at Pixar actually helped Steve Jobs when he got back at Apple? Wasn’t his ousting actually good, in the end? Some think that he matured during that time and when he got back [at Apple] he was a different man.
JE: Well, some do [think that]. But he also learned the lesson that if you have a Board of Directors, they’d better follow your vision; they’d better be your Board of Directors, not somebody else’s. You know, when the Board rejected the 1984 ad, it should have been an enormous message to Steve that, hey wait a minute, there’s something here… I mentioned that to him, by the way, that he’d better be conscious because [the Board] didn’t get [the ad]. They really didn’t get what the Mac meant. [And Steve] learned that as he went through all these other issues: he took over Pixar, and then at NeXT. he learned that he needed the right people, the right team, that they really had to buy into the vision [...] and the product.
The old Board, how many of them actually used Apple products? I mean, [...] It’s all part of this whole system. I think that’s one part he learned really well. Then he learned that he’s a CEO. He’s a founder. He can’t work for somebody else. And I’m the same, by the way. That’s what I learned.
SoA: What’s your opinion about the people who came after John Sculley? Michael Spindler and also Gil Amelio.
JE: Gil? Actually, he’s the hero ’cause he’s brought Steve in. I don’t think he did it on purpose, I think he was trying to bring back… He was an absolute failure. He would have been an absolute disaster. I mean, he came out of the semiconductor industry [...] everybody hated them there, brought his own team. He also brought Ellen Hancock, by the way. Ellen Hancock and I worked together at IBM. [...] She actually was to be nominated the first female IBM Fellow.
SoA: So you think that one of Gil Amelio’s right moves was having Miss Hancock on his team?
JE: Yes, right. No, I mean, that was horrible but it served a purpose ultimately to bring Steve back. And I think that both of them were intrigued by Steve. They heard all the Apple history and all that stuff… and Jean Louis [lost the bid] ’cause he came to one meeting and he came like cocky like it’s a done deal and Steve comes in and does his “Steve magic” and clearly as an Operating System, Be Vs. NeXT was no match. They had to have the NeXT [Operating] System [...] you have to give them credit. They really saved Apple, unknowingly.
SoA: Do you use a Macintosh?
JE: I have a “Mac family”. I have two teenagers. My son’s here, Federico and [...] everything is a Mac. I also have one of the original Macs. I have serial number two. It’s in my garage. [...] The first hundred had our names on them so I have one with my name on it.
SoA: Thank you very much
JE: You’re welcome. I hope you had a good view, a good insight.
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