By the end of 2010, Jobs was working more from home again. The official company line was that he was fine now that he had a new liver. Employees, who saw him in the cafeteria, knew better. By Christmas, Jobs was down to 115 pounds, fifty pounds below his normal weight. Every inch of his body, he told friends, felt like it had been punched.
In January, doctors detected new tumors. Jobs didn’t want to go on medical leave but had no choice. On January 17, 2011, he sent out an email to all employees:
At my request, the board of directors has granted me a medical leave of absence so I can focus on my health. I will continue as CEO and be involved in major strategic decisions for the company.
I have asked Tim Cook to be responsible for all of Apple’s day to day operations. I have great confidence that Tim and the rest of the executive management team will do a terrific job executing the exciting plans we have in place for 2011.
I love Apple so much and hope to be back as soon as I can. In the meantime, my family and I would deeply appreciate respect for our privacy.
As before, the note was scarce on details. But it was different from the last one because Jobs didn’t give a time frame for his return.
The carefully selected wording implied that there was a chance he might not be back at all.
In retrospect, there had been warning signs. When Apple announced a new partnership with Verizon Wireless the week before, it was Cook, not Jobs, who showed up at the press event. A News Corporation press event where Jobs was slated to appear had been abruptly postponed. Nevertheless, the announcement of another medical leave took many people by surprise. The fact that he sent the notice on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day led some to speculate about whether the company had deliberately picked a day when the U.S. stock markets were closed. Apple shares fell 8 percent in Europe.
In an earnings conference call the day after the email, Wall Street refrained out of courtesy from asking about Jobs’s health, but Cook seemed to detect the anxiety. When an analyst asked about Apple’s long-term business planning, he assured him that Apple was doing its best work ever.
“We are all very happy with the product pipeline,” he said. “The team here has an unparalleled breadth and depth of talent and culture of innovation that Steve has driven in the company. Excellence has become a habit, and so we feel very, very confident about the future of the company.”
Eventually, the concern ebbed. It helped that Apple had reported a 78 percent surge in profit and record sales during the previous quarter. For the moment, Apple still revolved around Jobs. Even though he had formally removed himself from the responsibilities of running the company and wasn’t as available as he used to be, his deputies, including Cook, were reluctant to make decisions without his approval. It was especially true on matters that they knew he would have wanted to be involved in. Halving the minimum spending for iAd campaigns from $1 million to $500,000 was one of them.
The plan had been in the works for weeks, but no one wanted to make a decision on his behalf. Everyone held their breath, hoping he would return.
That February, Jobs was preoccupied with the passage of time. His twentieth wedding anniversary was coming up the following month.
He hadn’t always paid attention to occasions like this in the past, but this year was different. Deciding to enlist some help, he called Tom Suiter, an old friend and a veteran designer.
“You remember how you helped me out with our wedding invitation?” he asked. “I want to do something really special for Laurene and the kids.” When Suiter asked what he had in mind, Jobs responded, “I don’t know yet. That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. Something that could provide them with wonderful memories.”
Suiter had worked for Jobs as a creative director in the early 1980s and had been part of the team that launched the “1984” ad campaign. He helped name NeXT, the company Jobs had founded after he was booted out of Apple in 1985. Jobs had originally wanted to call it “Two” because it was his second company. Suiter convinced him that it was a bad idea because everyone would want to know what happened to “One.” After cofounding the ad agency CKS Partners, Suiter continued to work for Jobs. He had been involved in the famous “Think Different” ad campaign and the initial designs for the Apple Stores. Even after they stopped working together, the two stayed in touch.
On the day of their first meeting, Suiter arrived at Jobs’s house with some watercolor paper and a set of Conté crayons. Suiter’s idea was a handmade white linen box that would open up to a black linen container with twenty photographs. He envisioned that the box would have some kind of logo on it. Suiter was hoping to convince Jobs to design that himself. When he suggested it, Jobs refused to consider it.
“Steve, you could hire anybody on the face of the planet to do this for you. I’m so appreciative that you asked me to do it, but I just think it would be so cool if you could do something,” ventured Suiter as they sat in Jobs’s atrium. “What if it was just this really nice little heart with a two and a zero on it?”
For a moment Jobs was silent.
“I’ll give it a shot,” he said slowly. “But will you draw it first and I’ll copy it?”
After Suiter did a few hearts, Jobs picked up a crayon. He very carefully drew one side and then the other. And then he drew a 2. The crayons provided beautiful texture, but Jobs didn’t like what he saw and tried to discard them.
“Don’t worry about it. Do a few and then I’ll be able to Photoshop it and put them together,” Suiter told him.
As they got together over the next several weeks, they talked about life and compared notes about their children. Sometimes, the conversation was lighthearted. They would talk about funny moments or their kids’ Halloween costumes. Suiter used to make Superman and werewolf costumes for his sons.
Jobs expressed regret that he hadn’t been a better father.
He wished he better understood his daughters.
One time as Suiter was walking out, Jobs told him goodbye. The formality of the farewell frightened Suiter so much that he began praying as soon as he reached his car. “Come on,” he told himself.
“No, this can’t be the end.”
He was immensely relieved when he saw Jobs again two weeks later. The two never talked directly about Jobs’s legacy. Suiter didn’t want to consider a future without his friend, and it was clear Jobs intended to be around for a while.
“Is it a month? Is it a year?” Jobs would speculate. “I don’t know. It could be ten years.”
Suiter caught him in a reflective mood once.
“Steve, I think about the life I led and I’m so happy,” Suiter opened by saying. Like Jobs, Suiter had struggled with cancer a few years back. “You must feel the same way because you’ve lived a life of twenty men.”
“I know,” Jobs said. “I know. I have.”
Suiter asked him about the coolest thing he’d done in his life. Jobs admitted that he hadn’t thought about that kind of thing until recently.
“You know, I sort of feel like we don’t step back and think about those kinds of things. Jony and I were talking about that,” Jobs said, referring to Apple’s designer Jonathan Ive, with whom he spent a lot of time. “For me, it would be a tie. Without a doubt the first Macintosh was so much fun to do, and I truly believe the first-generation iPhone was so similar in that it was just so different, so unique, and so far beyond what anybody else was expecting.”
When Jobs finished designing the logo of the heart, Suiter found someone who made exquisitely crafted linen boxes. Then he located a museum quality printer. Suiter also persuaded Jobs to write a letter to his family that was letter-pressed and enclosed under a sheet of vellum paper. As before, Jobs was initially resistant.
“Aw man. Aw God.”
“No, come on! You can write that,” Suiter said to coax him. “Think about it. The first time you saw her she swept you off your feet, right?”
The result was a sweet and melancholy note. When the gift was finally finished, Jobs had tears in his eyes.
Adapted from the book Haunted Empire: Apple After Steve Jobs by Yukari Kane. Copyright (c) 2014 by Yukari Kane. Reprinted by permission of Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins.