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Steve Jobs comes across as a terrible human being in “Small Fry” book by his daughter



Steve Jobs
It’s long been known that
Apple cofounder Steve Jobs treated people cruelly, but his
daughter’s new autobiography offers new


  • It’s been well-established that Apple cofounder Steve
    Jobs often acted like a jerk.
  • But in a new memoir, Jobs’ eldest daughter recounts the
    many ways he was cruel to her.
  • The newly revealed anecdotes add color to the many
    stories of how Jobs was mean or rude to employees and business
  • The net effect is that Jobs looks like a truly terrible
  • His rotten behavior was enabled by his wife, his
    colleagues, and his business partners.
  • It’s hard to say whether his business achievements
    outweigh his cruelty, but they certainly got more attention
    during his lifetime — and helped enable his bad

It’s no surprise that Steve Jobs was a jerk.

There have been plenty of
accounts over the years
that have detailed his cruelty,
rudeness, and miserliness to workers, business partners, and even
family and friends.

Still, the
stories that have come out so far
from “Small
,” the new autobiography from his daughter Lisa
Brennan-Jobs are shocking. Jobs comes across not just as someone
who could be self-centered and mean, but
someone who was a truly terrible human being

We’ve known for years now that Jobs initially denied being
Brennan-Jobs’ father and didn’t start paying child support until
after a DNA test proved he was father and he was ordered to do so
by a court. We’ve also known that he denied for years that
Apple’s Lisa computer, which it debuted right before the
Macintosh, was named for his daughter — before finally admitting
it to her and the world.

But Brennan-Jobs’ book adds fresh details on how awful he was to
her. He
rarely saw her when she was a young child
, even after
admitting his paternity. While he was avoiding her and avoiding
paying child support — despite already having founded and making
money at Apple — she and her mother lived in poverty, subsisting
on welfare payments, her mother’s low-paying jobs, and the
charity of others. When he was finally forced to pay child
support, he made sure that the case against him was closed days
before Apple went public and he became a multimillionaire.

Even after Jobs started paying more attention to Brennan-Jobs,
her mother, Chrisann Brennan, apparently felt uncomfortable
leaving him with her alone after an incident in which he
questioned and teased the then-nine-year-old Brennan-Jobs about
her sexual attractions and proclivities.

“We’re cold people”

Then, when Brennan-Jobs went to live with him as a teenager, he
forbade her from seeing Brennan for six months, even though her
mother had been the only constant figure in her life up to then.
After moving in with them, Brennan-Jobs told him and her
stepmother, Laurene Powell-Jobs, that she felt lonely and asked
that they tell her goodnight in the evenings. Instead of
acknowledging her feelings and acceding to such a simple request,
responded, “We’re cold people.”

Laurene Powell Jobs
“Small Fry” indicates that
Laurene Powell-Jobs enabled Steve Jobs’ cruelty to his

Steve Jennings / Stringer /
Getty Images

But there’s more. Once, as Jobs groped his wife and pretended to
be having sex with her, he demanded that Brennan-Jobs stay in the
room, calling it a “family moment.” He repeatedly withheld money
from her, told her that she would get “nothing” from his wealth —
and even refused to install heat in her bedroom.

When she started to become active in her high school, getting
involved in clubs and running for student government, Jobs — the
one, again, who previously refused to acknowledge his paternity
and spent almost no time with her when she was little — got on
Brennan-Jobs for not spending more time with the family, telling
her, “This isn’t working out. You’re not succeeding as a member
of this family.”

At one point, neighbors of the family were so worried about
Brennan-Jobs that they helped her move into their house. They
also helped her pay for college.

It’s bad to treat employees and significant others poorly. But
it’s really evil to inflict such pain on a child. We knew Jobs
was a bully toward many people. Now we know he was one to his own

Brennan-Jobs comes across as a survivor of abuse

These are only excerpts from the book, which goes on sale
September 4, so we don’t have the full picture. And of course,
they’re the recollections of one person, with all the emotional
baggage and bias that entails. Powell-Jobs and Jobs’ sister have
said in a statement that the book “differs dramatically
from our memories of those times.”

But in her book, Brennan-Jobs brings up these incidents not to
condemn Jobs, but to make peace with them and him. She aims to
forgive him and move on.

That’s her choice and her right. But, as others have pointed out,
what she endured was something many people would now consider
child abuse — the intentional infliction of emotional cruelty.
And in trying to find a way to forgive and understand him, she is
reacting similar to other child abuse survivors.


In trying to find a way to excuse her father, Brennan-Jobs is
following a long line of people, all of whom are much more
culpable than her for his behavior. Generally, the only way to
get a bully to back off is to stand up to him and for others to
do so on behalf of his targets; in Jobs’ case, too few people

When it concerned his behavior toward Brennan-Jobs, his wife,
Powell-Jobs, clearly didn’t stand up to him. When it concerned
his behavior to employees and business partners, his colleagues
just as obviously didn’t.

Jobs had remarkable achievements — and was unbelievably cruel

I don’t know how the cosmic balancing stick weighs something as
complicated as a person’s life, but I do think Brennan-Jobs’ book
puts the other stories about Jobs, the ones about how he treated
his employees, colleagues and partners, in a different light.
They make him seem less like a driven leader who was sometimes
harsh to achieve his goals and more like a cruel person who
succeeded because those around him accommodated and acquiesced to
his awfulness.

Jobs is rightly praised for his role in resurrecting Apple. When
he took charge, the company was a few months away from
bankruptcy. When he left Apple right before his death, it already
was the most important consumer technology company in the world
and was well on its way to becoming the behemoth it is now. Given
the generally poor track record of corporate managers in turning
around seemingly hopeless situations, it’s quite possible that
only Jobs could have saved Apple and put it on that path.

And that’s no small achievement. In turning around the company,
Jobs saved thousands of jobs and helped to create thousands more.
He also made lots of people inside and outside the company very

The positive side of Jobs’ ledger also includes his role in
creating some of the most influential products of the last 50
years — the iPhone, the Mac, the iPad, the iPod, and the original
Apple computers. Maybe similar products could and would have been
created without him. But there’s no denying that he had a leading
role in shaping how billions of people interact with technology,
in many ways for the better.

We too often glorify business leaders and ignore their failings

Of course even those achievements are leavened by less laudable
ones, such as his overseeing of Apple’s outsourcing of thousands
of factory jobs overseas and the convoluted contortions it made
to avoid paying taxes. He also headed the company and personally
benefited when it backdated stock options to make them more
valuable, but let other executives take the fall. Oh, and he
repeatedly yelled at employees and publicly embarrassed them.

And that’s not to mention his antics during his first tenure at
Apple, such as how he attempted to undermine then-CEO John
Sculley and
refused to give stock options to one of Apple’s first

In the end, did his business achievements outweigh the cruelty he
inflicted on others? I don’t know.

I do know that we too often glorify business leaders for their
achievements without taking a close look at who they are as human
beings and how their actions — both personal and professional —
affect those around them and the wider world. I also believe that
focus on their accomplishments helps enables their bad behavior.

That certainly seemed to be the case with Steve Jobs.

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