ch 10. sell to steve, but work for chuck

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Nicest person who has ever revolutionized our world – Chuck Geschke, co-founder of Adobe Systems (courtesy of Wikipedia).


I had no idea why NeXT Computer was added to sales my patch until it was a done deal. I didn’t know what to think. Why me? Had I screwed up? Why had Steve, or anyone else, asked for a change in account management? All good questions. I had no answers for and no control over.

Steve Jobs was the CEO. I would not be interacting with him daily, but I’d get to meet him. Though flattered I was picked, that someone at Adobe thought enough of me to put me on point, I worried.

Worried, but intrigued. Steve Jobs? How was I going to survive this? At what point would I piss him off enough to have him dispose of me as just an afterthought, someone to step on on his way back to world domination?

The name evoked terror and awe in my coworkers at Adobe. Anecdotes emerged from dark PTSD episodes, were brushed off and related.  Steve would chew me up and spit me out. People seemed to know about my assignment before me. It reminded me of my Aunt Céline thinking my entire family was going to be slaughtered when we left for Laos in 1972.

“Steve? He’ll K-I-L-L you. You sure you want this?”

If I was to look at the purse, in the words of J. Geils, this new assignment distracted from the tough sales work on hand pitching Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard (HP), and Silicon Graphics (SGI) new lucrative opportunities to bundle Adobe software with their shiny, speedy workstations. Sun and SGI were in a state of perpetual graphics war and I was nothing but a software arms merchant, ratcheting up the competition between the two. It was great business.

I had already negotiated two bundling deals with these two workstation dinosaurs (Sun and SGI) and people smiled when they saw me walking down the hall at Adobe. Both companies were terminally hungry for the two Adobe flagship products at the time, Photoshop and Illustrator. I was making great money. I didn’t need to be Steve’s caretaker.

In dealing with Steve, I always subdued any sense of awe and fandom. He was my client and I had to keep up the legal fiction of that relationship, as best I could. Steve was no different from any other. At least, that’s what I told myself leading up to the assignment.

What if Steve teed off on me?

Sometimes you need to go to the cliché well for inspiration. There could only be one way to deal with it – like Pop.

If Steve were that insane, well, I’d just use my Pop’s tactic and go even more insane than Steve.

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Pop’s badge. Respect.

My father worked on one border or another his whole life in international law enforcement. He spent nine years with Canadian Immigration and another twenty years as a Senior Inspector with US Customs. He was the real deal and made Time magazine in the early eighties, steamrolling crates of fake Cartier watches he seized through the Port of San Diego.

He was a firm believer in psych ops when dealing with irrational people (often called “clients.”) If someone went crazy on him, he would remind him or her that he was the one who put “batshit” in crazy. He truly believed that the only way to control someone is to make them think you are more out of control than them.

I hoped I wouldn’t have to resort to Pop’s tactics to deal with Steve. It was a false fear.

Steve Jobs was not insane. He was not irrational. I never saw him act without purpose. He just never suffered fools, sometimes to his disadvantage.

People respect you if you treat them as you would any other human being. This goes further than you may think and will ever know. No one will ever respect you if you debase yourself. Your job is to get the deal, but at the end of the day, there’s always another deal.

Lack of empathy just makes you another puke.

Sales pukes come and go—you want a long career in doing what you do best, which is make money. Give yourself a chance to care about others. They will reciprocate in ways you may never know. Christians call these things “blessings.” At the end of the day, people are people, at every level. You will need the receptionist who greets you and makes your badge.

More than you know. Remembering this matters. She (or he) are important and gain in importance as you allow them. Call it weakness, call it being soft – empathy will always matter and some day, your store of it will save your ass.

Anyone in business will tell you that the mistakes happen, regardless of whose fault it is. When it happens, it is usually life telling you that you are not trying hard enough. If you live through it, your just reward is another chance to screw up.

This was my time.

I scheduled a meeting between Ed Zander at Sun, and Chuck Geschke, one of Adobe’s co-CEOs.

Ed had been my boss at Sun in marketing before I joined Adobe. Now he led Sunsoft, a division of Sun Microsystems, as the name implied. Sunsoft was in the business of licensing Sun software, like Solaris, NFS, and the like. Java had not hit the scene. Later, Ed left Sun to eventually run Motorola. Ed should have taken over at Sun Microsystems, but that’s another book and solely my opinion.

We were all set. Chuck, a big tall man, gamely climbed into my semi-new 1992 Infiniti G20 (a rebranded Nissan Maxima) to head over to Sun Microsystems Building 8, less than a mile from Adobe. At the time, the two companies were near each other in Mountain View, near where the Googleplex sits today.

Everything was set.

We were suited up. Chuck was prebriefed and knew what to expect from Ed. We were ready.

We parked and walked into the lobby on the first floor. The receptionist called Ed’s longtime admin, Linda Walker, and let her know Chuck and I were in the lobby.

We were right on time.

We were also one week early — Ed Zander was out of town.

Oh shit.

Now anyone, including me, would have eviscerated me for being a complete idiot. I should have been fired on the spot. I should have been marched out in front of Adobe’s employees, publicly humiliated, and summarily fired. 

I wasn’t. 

Why? I can’t believe it’s just that Chuck Geschke is a good guy (because he is!) but he must have seen something worthwhile in me, worth the price of my stupidity. I don’t think Steve would have been that generous.

I’m sure that there’s truth to all the anecdotes about Jobs going ballistic on his employees, and I’m torn between thinking that Jobs was all bad and that the victims brought it on themselves. Somewhere between these two opposite views lies the truth. I leave it to his official biographer to sculpt the truth. Enough films and bios have come out to weave and layer the legend long and thick.

As for Chuck Geschke, I learned to check, double-check, and triple-check every executive appointment, to the point sometimes of being obsessive-compulsive. Employment remains a good thing.

When the two did meet the next week, it was a great meeting. Ed genuinely liked Chuck, who is a very nice man. The first time they met, I was still at Sun, and Chuck said to Ed,

“Ed, we’ve been talking with your man, Watson.”

“Who the hell is Watson?” asked Ed.

Chuck had been kidnaped  from the Adobe parking lot in the past year and held for ransom until rescued by the FBI from a no-tell motel south of San Jose. Throughout a couple weeks of our negotiation between Sun and Adobe, Chuck was being held for ransom. Only a few people and the FBI knew about the ordeal, and it ended with Chuck safe and rescued – kidnappers in jail.  Chuck calmly gave Ed first-hand details of his ordeal in a very Chuck way – calm, collected, even-headed, and brilliant.

Ed, the Howard Stern of the industry, loved it! There was nothing like firsthand testimony, and Chuck was good enough and more than willing to talk through whatever trauma he might have endured, probably as therapy.

Talking to Chuck always made Ed’s day, though not a week early.

Live and learn. Hopefully you get to do the live part. Remember to work for Chuck and sell to Steve.

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