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Steve Jobs remembered by Canadians as driven, dynamic, difficult – and ‘the best’

In 1980, Dave Killins was one of the very first employees of the Canadian subsidiary of the rapidly-growing personal computer company that had exploded on the world marketplace. Later, as president of Apple Canada, Mr. Killins had a ringside seat experiencing the intensity of founder Steve Jobs.

"He was a tough guy to work for," Mr. Killins said Thursday in an interview from his office at Foam-5 Fabricators Ltd., a plastics company he owns just outside Toronto. "He was hard to like [but] very much respected … You knew there was only one leader in the company, and that was him."

Mr. Jobs' thought his work ethic should be emulated by everyone else in the company, said Mr. Killins, who left Apple before the end of the decade. At headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., and in other offices, "it was expected that the parking lots of the buildings would be filled on a Sunday afternoon," despite the fact that those crazy hours were hard on family life and ruined many marriages. Still, that was the price to be paid "to work with such a talented guy," he said.

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Mr. Killins is one of a handful of Canadians who have had direct dealings with Mr. Jobs.

Rob Burgess, a Canadian who ran graphics and multimedia software company Macromedia until it was taken over by Adobe Systems Inc. in 2005, met often with Mr. Jobs.

"He was off the chart" when it comes to drive, intensity, and knowledge, Mr. Burgess said. "He was different to deal with than anybody else in the business world."

At meetings, no one else would open their mouths because the Apple Inc. chief knew more than anyone about all the issues on the table, Mr. Burgess said. Indeed, nothing substantive would be discussed until Mr. Jobs entered the room. "When Steve got there, he did all the talking on every subject – on hardware, software, on design, on marketing. He'd have all his top lieutenants there and not once would he ever turn to them."

When the design of a piece of software was being reviewed, "he put his face an inch from the screen," Mr. Burgess said. "He'd be looking at the number of pixels."

If Mr. Jobs wanted to get hold of Mr. Burgess after hours, the calls would start at 7 p.m. and would continue every five minutes until he got through. If there was no response in the evening, the calls would resume at 7 a.m. One time, Mr. Burgess was tracked down beside the pool at a hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan, because Mr. Jobs was on hold on the phone and wanted to talk about a piece of software Macromedia had sold to Apple.

Mr. Burgess said he was very sad to hear of Mr. Jobs's death. "I came in yesterday and I sat down and cried. He was the best. There's none like him."

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Businessman and television personality Kevin O'Leary, whose company The Learning Co. supplied educational reading software for Macs, said he once flew out to Cupertino to tell Mr. Jobs that Apple's business model of not licensing out its operating system was making life very difficult for his firm.

The meeting in an Apple boardroom did not go well. "I've never been beaten up harder," said Mr. O'Leary. Mr. Jobs "was barking at me on the way to the parking lot. He was ferocious." The Apple boss "basically threw me out," he said.

Mr. O'Leary said he heard of Mr. Jobs' death on his iPad at a Winnipeg book signing on Wednesday night. He said getting such news on one of Mr. Jobs' own devices "really freaked me out."

"I get a lot of flack for being a mean guy, but you know, I am a tooth fairy compared to what Jobs is like … But you can't fault his success."

Other Canadians who have had even brief encounters with Mr. Jobs say his knowledge was encyclopedic.

Jeff Musson, owner of video streaming company, said he met Mr. Jobs at a reception in San Francisco a couple of years ago.

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"Two things stand out in my mind," Mr. Musson said. "In the short amount of time I spent talking with him, I was surprised at how well read and knowledgeable he was on things other than technology. He was well versed on world affairs, economics, and politics. When you thought of Steve Jobs, you thought technology, but there was much more to him."

Mr. Musson said he asked Mr. Jobs about the inspiration behind the design of Apple products. "He said, to my amazement, that it was a calligraphy class that he took back in college. That course taught him about different fonts, spacing of letters and the overall look and design of how words should flow on a page. He had no idea at the time how he would put the knowledge to use, but years later … those classes were the inspiration of the Apple product interfaces we use today."

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About the Author
Reporter, Report on Business

Richard Blackwell has reported on Canadian business for more than three decades. At the Financial Post and the Globe and Mail he has covered technology, transportation, investing, banking, securities and media, among many other subjects. Currently, his focus is on green technology and the economy. More

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