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At Home with the Jobs Clan

With Laurene Powell, 1991

Laurene Powell

By this point, based on his dating history, a matchmaker could have put together a composite sketch of the woman who would be right for Jobs. Smart, yet unpretentious. Tough enough to stand up to him, yet Zen-like enough to rise above turmoil. Well-educated and independent, yet ready to make accommodations for him and a family. Down-to-earth, but with a touch of the ethereal. Savvy enough to know how to manage him, but secure enough to not always need to. And it wouldn’t hurt to be a beautiful, lanky blonde with an easygoing sense of humor who liked organic vegetarian food. In October 1989, after his split with Tina Redse, just such a woman walked into his life.

More specifically, just such a woman walked into his classroom. Jobs had agreed to give one of the “View from the Top” lectures at the Stanford Business School one Thursday evening. Laurene Powell was a new graduate student at the business school, and a guy in her class talked her into going to the lecture. They arrived late and all the seats were taken, so they sat in the aisle. When an usher told them they had to move, Powell took her friend down to the front row and commandeered two of the reserved seats there. Jobs was led to the one next to her when he arrived. “I looked to my right, and there was a beautiful girl there, so we started chatting while I was waiting to be introduced,” Jobs recalled. They bantered a bit, and Laurene joked that she was sitting there because she had won a raffle, and the prize was that he got to take her to dinner. “He was so adorable,” she later said.

After the speech Jobs hung around on the edge of the stage chatting with students. He watched Powell leave, then come back and stand at the edge of the crowd, then leave again. He bolted out after her, brushing past the dean, who was trying to grab him for a conversation. After catching up with her in the parking lot, he said, “Excuse me, wasn’t there something about a raffle you won, that I’m supposed to take you to dinner?” She laughed. “How about Saturday?” he asked. She agreed and wrote down her number. Jobs headed to his car to drive up to the Thomas Fogarty winery in the Santa Cruz mountains above Woodside, where the NeXT education sales group was holding a dinner. But he suddenly stopped and turned around. “I thought, wow, I’d rather have dinner with her than the education group, so I ran back to her car and said ‘How about dinner tonight?’” She said yes. It was a beautiful fall evening, and they walked into Palo Alto to a funky vegetarian restaurant, St. Michael’s Alley, and ended up staying there for four hours. “We’ve been together ever since,” he said.

Avie Tevanian was sitting at the winery restaurant waiting with the rest of the NeXT education group. “Steve was sometimes unreliable, but when I talked to him I realized that something special had come up,” he said. As soon as Powell got home, after midnight, she called her close friend Kathryn (Kat) Smith, who was at Berkeley, and left a message on her machine. “You will not believe what just happened to me!” it said. “You will not believe who I met!” Smith called back the next morning and heard the tale. “We had known about Steve, and he was a person of interest to us, because we were business students,” she recalled.

Andy Hertzfeld and a few others later speculated that Powell had been scheming to meet Jobs. “Laurene is nice, but she can be calculating, and I think she targeted him from the beginning,” Hertzfeld said. “Her college roommate told me that Laurene had magazine covers of Steve and vowed she was going to meet him. If it’s true that Steve was manipulated, there is a fair amount of irony there.” But Powell later insisted that this wasn’t the case. She went only because her friend wanted to go, and she was slightly confused as to who they were going to see. “I knew that Steve Jobs was the speaker, but the face I thought of was that of Bill Gates,” she recalled. “I had them mixed up. This was 1989. He was working at NeXT, and he was not that big of a deal to me. I wasn’t that enthused, but my friend was, so we went.”

“There were only two women in my life that I was truly in love with, Tina and Laurene,” Jobs later said. “I thought I was in love with Joan Baez, but I really just liked her a lot. It was just Tina and then Laurene.”

Laurene Powell had been born in New Jersey in 1963 and learned to be self-sufficient at an early age. Her father was a Marine Corps pilot who died a hero in a crash in Santa Ana, California; he had been leading a crippled plane in for a landing, and when it hit his plane he kept flying to avoid a residential area rather than ejecting in time to save his life. Her mother’s second marriage turned out to be a horrible situation, but she felt she couldn’t leave because she had no means to support her large family. For ten years Laurene and her three brothers had to suffer in a tense household, keeping a good demeanor while compartmentalizing problems. She did well. “The lesson I learned was clear, that I always wanted to be self-sufficient,” she said. “I took pride in that. My relationship with money is that it’s a tool to be self-sufficient, but it’s not something that is part of who I am.”

After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, she worked at Goldman Sachs as a fixed income trading strategist, dealing with enormous sums of money that she traded for the house account. Jon Corzine, her boss, tried to get her to stay at Goldman, but instead she decided the work was unedifying. “You could be really successful,” she said, “but you’re just contributing to capital formation.” So after three years she quit and went to Florence, Italy, living there for eight months before enrolling in Stanford Business School.

After their Thursday night dinner, she invited Jobs over to her Palo Alto apartment on Saturday. Kat Smith drove down from Berkeley and pretended to be her roommate so she could meet him as well. Their relationship became very passionate. “They would kiss and make out,” Smith said. “He was enraptured with her. He would call me on the phone and ask, ‘What do you think, does she like me?’ Here I am in this bizarre position of having this iconic person call me.”

That New Year’s Eve of 1989 the three went to Chez Panisse, the famed Alice Waters restaurant in Berkeley, along with Lisa, then eleven. Something happened at the dinner that caused Jobs and Powell to start arguing. They left separately, and Powell ended up spending the night at Kat Smith’s apartment. At nine the next morning there was a knock at the door, and Smith opened it to find Jobs, standing in the drizzle holding some wildflowers he had picked. “May I come in and see Laurene?” he said. She was still asleep, and he walked into the bedroom. A couple of hours went by, while Smith waited in the living room, unable to go in and get her clothes. Finally, she put a coat on over her nightgown and went to Peet’s Coffee to pick up some food. Jobs did not emerge until after noon. “Kat, can you come here for a minute?” he asked. They all gathered in the bedroom. “As you know, Laurene’s father passed away, and Laurene’s mother isn’t here, and since you’re her best friend, I’m going to ask you the question,” he said. “I’d like to marry Laurene. Will you give your blessing?”

Smith clambered onto the bed and thought about it. “Is this okay with you?” she asked Powell. When she nodded yes, Smith announced, “Well, there’s your answer.”

It was not, however, a definitive answer. Jobs had a way of focusing on something with insane intensity for a while and then, abruptly, turning away his gaze. At work, he would focus on what he wanted to, when he wanted to, and on other matters he would be unresponsive, no matter how hard people tried to get him to engage. In his personal life, he was the same way. At times he and Powell would indulge in public displays of affection that were so intense they embarrassed everyone in their presence, including Kat Smith and Powell’s mother. In the mornings at his Woodside mansion, he would wake Powell up by blasting the Fine Young Cannibals’ “She Drives Me Crazy” on his tape deck. Yet at other times he would ignore her. “Steve would fluctuate between intense focus, where she was the center of the universe, to being coldly distant and focused on work,” said Smith. “He had the power to focus like a laser beam, and when it came across you, you basked in the light of his attention. When it moved to another point of focus, it was very, very dark for you. It was very confusing to Laurene.”

Once she had accepted his marriage proposal on the first day of 1990, he didn’t mention it again for several months. Finally, Smith confronted him while they were sitting on the edge of a sandbox in Palo Alto. What was going on? Jobs replied that he needed to feel sure that Powell could handle the life he lived and the type of person he was. In September she became fed up with waiting and moved out. The following month, he gave her a diamond engagement ring, and she moved back in.

In December Jobs took Powell to his favorite vacation spot, Kona Village in Hawaii. He had started going there nine years earlier when, stressed out at Apple, he had asked his assistant to pick out a place for him to escape. At first glance, he didn’t like the cluster of sparse thatched-roof bungalows nestled on a beach on the big island of Hawaii. It was a family resort, with communal eating. But within hours he had begun to view it as paradise. There was a simplicity and spare beauty that moved him, and he returned whenever he could. He especially enjoyed being there that December with Powell. Their love had matured. The night before Christmas he again declared, even more formally, that he wanted to marry her. Soon another factor would drive that decision. While in Hawaii, Powell got pregnant. “We know exactly where it happened,” Jobs later said with a laugh.

The Wedding, March 18, 1991

Powell’s pregnancy did not completely settle the issue. Jobs again began balking at the idea of marriage, even though he had dramatically proposed to her both at the very beginning and the very end of 1990. Furious, she moved out of his house and back to her apartment. For a while he sulked or ignored the situation. Then he thought he might still be in love with Tina Redse; he sent her roses and tried to convince her to return to him, maybe even get married. He was not sure what he wanted, and he surprised a wide swath of friends and even acquaintances by asking them what he should do. Who was prettier, he would ask, Tina or Laurene? Who did they like better? Who should he marry? In a chapter about this in Mona Simpson’s novel A Regular Guy, the Jobs character “asked more than a hundred people who they thought was more beautiful.” But that was fiction; in reality, it was probably fewer than a hundred.

He ended up making the right choice. As Redse told friends, she never would have survived if she had gone back to Jobs, nor would their marriage. Even though he would pine about the spiritual nature of his connection to Redse, he had a far more solid relationship with Powell. He liked her, he loved her, he respected her, and he was comfortable with her. He may not have seen her as mystical, but she was a sensible anchor for his life. “He is the luckiest guy to have landed with Laurene, who is smart and can engage him intellectually and can sustain his ups and downs and tempestuous personality,” said Joanna Hoffman. “Because she’s not neurotic, Steve may feel that she is not as mystical as Tina or something. But that’s silly.” Andy Hertzfeld agreed. “Laurene looks a lot like Tina, but she is totally different because she is tougher and armor-plated. That’s why the marriage works.”

Jobs understood this as well. Despite his emotional turbulence and occasional meanness, the marriage would turn out to be enduring, marked by loyalty and faithfulness, overcoming the ups and downs and jangling emotional complexities it encountered.

? ? ?

Avie Tevanian decided Jobs needed a bachelor’s party. This was not as easy as it sounded. Jobs did not like to party and didn’t have a gang of male buddies. He didn’t even have a best man. So the party turned out to be just Tevanian and Richard Crandall, a computer science professor at Reed who had taken a leave to work at NeXT. Tevanian hired a limo, and when they got to Jobs’s house, Powell answered the door dressed in a suit and wearing a fake moustache, saying that she wanted to come as one of the guys. It was just a joke, and soon the three bachelors, none of them drinkers, were rolling to San Francisco to see if they could pull off their own pale version of a bachelor party.

Tevanian had been unable to get reservations at Greens, the vegetarian restaurant at Fort Mason that Jobs liked, so he booked a very fancy restaurant at a hotel. “I don’t want to eat here,” Jobs announced as soon as the bread was placed on the table. He made them get up and walk out, to the horror of Tevanian, who was not yet used to Jobs’s restaurant manners. He led them to Café Jacqueline in North Beach, the soufflé place that he loved, which was indeed a better choice. Afterward they took the limo across the Golden Gate Bridge to a bar in Sausalito, where all three ordered shots of tequila but only sipped them. “It was not great as bachelor parties go, but it was the best we could come up with for someone like Steve, and nobody else volunteered to do it,” recalled Tevanian. Jobs was appreciative. He decided that he wanted Tevanian to marry his sister Mona Simpson. Though nothing came of it, the thought was a sign of affection.

Powell had fair warning of what she was getting into. As she was planning the wedding, the person who was going to do the calligraphy for the invitations came by the house to show them some options. There was no furniture for her to sit on, so she sat on the floor and laid out the samples. Jobs looked for a few minutes, then got up and left the room. They waited for him to come back, but he didn’t. After a while Powell went to find him in his room. “Get rid of her,” he said. “I can’t look at her stuff. It’s shit.”

On March 18, 1991, Steven Paul Jobs, thirty-six, married Laurene Powell, twenty-seven, at the Ahwahnee Lodge in Yosemite National Park. Built in the 1920s, the Ahwahnee is a sprawling pile of stone, concrete, and timber designed in a style that mixed Art Deco, the Arts and Crafts movement, and the Park Service’s love of huge fireplaces. Its best features are the views. It has floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on Half Dome and Yosemite Falls.

About fifty people came, including Steve’s father Paul Jobs and sister Mona Simpson. She brought her fiancé, Richard Appel, a lawyer who went on to become a television comedy writer. (As a writer for The Simpsons, he named Homer’s mother after his wife.) Jobs insisted that they all arrive by chartered bus; he wanted to control all aspects of the event.

The ceremony was in the solarium, with the snow coming down hard and Glacier Point just visible in the distance. It was conducted by Jobs’s longtime Sōtō Zen teacher, Kobun Chino, who shook a stick, struck a gong, lit incense, and chanted in a mumbling manner that most guests found incomprehensible. “I thought he was drunk,” said Tevanian. He wasn’t. The wedding cake was in the shape of Half Dome, the granite crest at the end of Yosemite Valley, but since it was strictly vegan—devoid of eggs, milk, or any refined products—more than a few of the guests found it inedible. Afterward they all went hiking, and Powell’s three strapping brothers launched a snowball fight, with lots of tackling and roughhousing. “You see, Mona,” Jobs said to his sister, “Laurene is descended from Joe Namath and we’re descended from John Muir.”

A Family Home

Powell shared her husband’s interest in natural foods. While at business school, she had worked part time at Odwalla, the juice company, where she helped develop the first marketing plan. After marrying Jobs, she felt that it was important to have a career, having learned from her childhood the need to be self-sufficient. So she started her own company, Terravera, that made ready-to-eat organic meals and delivered them to stores throughout northern California.

Instead of living in the isolated and rather spooky unfurnished Woodside mansion, the couple moved into a charming and unpretentious house on a corner in a family-friendly neighborhood in old Palo Alto. It was a privileged realm—neighbors would eventually include the visionary venture capitalist John Doerr, Google’s founder Larry Page, and Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg, along with Andy Hertzfeld and Joanna Hoffman—but the homes were not ostentatious, and there were no high hedges or long drives shielding them from view. Instead, houses were nestled on lots next to each other along flat, quiet streets flanked by wide sidewalks. “We wanted to live in a neighborhood where kids could walk to see friends,” Jobs later said.

The house was not the minimalist and modernist style Jobs would have designed if he had built a home from scratch. Nor was it a large or distinctive mansion that would make people stop and take notice as they drove down his street in Palo Alto. It was built in the 1930s by a local designer named Carr Jones, who specialized in carefully crafted homes in the “storybook style” of English or French country cottages.

The two-story house was made of red brick, with exposed wood beams and a shingle roof with curved lines; it evoked a rambling Cotswold cottage, or perhaps a home where a well-to-do Hobbit might have lived. The one Californian touch was a mission-style courtyard framed by the wings of the house. The two-story vaulted-ceiling living room was informal, with a floor of tile and terra-cotta. At one end was a large triangular window leading up to the peak of the ceiling; it had stained glass when Jobs bought it, as if it were a chapel, but he replaced it with clear glass. The other renovation he and Powell made was to expand the kitchen to include a wood-burning pizza oven and room for a long wooden ta............
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