[Famous Protégé] The 4 Mentors That Inspired Steve Jobs

By Mike BergelsonFebruary 17, 2015

This post will be a little different from the others in our series on famous protégés and their mentors.  Most of the stories have involved a single mentor and a single protégé, as in the case of Sonia Sotomayor or Condoleezza Rice. But Apple co-founder Steve Jobs learned from different people at different times in his life.

As with our other famous mentor-protégé stories, though, there are plenty of interesting lessons about what makes for a successful mentoring relationship. So let’s look at who mentored Steve Jobs, and what you can learn from it.

Multiple Mentors

Steve Jobs met his first mentor, Robert Friedland, at college in the early 1970s. In a recent biography by Walter Isaacson, a mutual friend Daniel Kottke recalled their relationship:

“Robert was very much an outgoing, charismatic guy, a real salesman. When I first met Steve he was shy and self-effacing, a very private guy. I think Robert taught him a lot about selling, about coming out of his shell, of opening up and taking charge of a situation.”

Among the things Jobs got from Friedland were the name of his company (Jobs got the inspiration for the name “Apple” after staying on Friedland’s apple farm), and a technique that became one of his hallmarks for decades later.

The technique in question was the “reality distortion field” – Jobs’s ability to use charisma and force of personality to persuade others to follow his vision, regardless of the facts. Kottke said this came from Friedland: “He was charismatic and a bit of a con man and could bend situations to his very strong will. He was mercurial, sure of himself, a little dictatorial. Steve admired that, and he became more like that after spending time with Robert.”

The two eventually fell out, however, and Friedland went on to become a mining billionaire. Jobs later said, “It was a strange thing to have one of the spiritual people in your young life turn out to be, symbolically and in reality, a gold miner.”

Friedland is not the only person Jobs learned from, however. He acknowledged many mentors in different areas of his life.

In the early days at Apple, Jobs was mentored by Robert Noyce, co-inventor of the microchip. “Bob Noyce took me under his wing,” Jobs said later. “I was young, in my twenties. He was in his early fifties. He tried to give me the lay of the land, give me a perspective that I could only partially understand.”

Later on, Jobs regularly turned to Bill Campbell for advice. Then there was a spiritual guru, Kobun Chino Otagowa, a Zen master who presided at Jobs’s wedding and was his longtime teacher. The influence of Otagawa’s Zen philosophy can be seen in Jobs’s view of design, which he felt ought to embrace minimalism and simplicity. This site lists 7 people who mentored Steve Jobs.

Jobs went on to act as a mentor himself, taking younger Silicon Valley upstarts under his wing and giving them the lay of the land just as Bob Noyce had done for him back in the 1970s. Those who credit Jobs as a mentor include Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Larry Page

Lessons from the Mentoring of Steve Jobs

  • Protégés can often have more than one mentor, learning different things from different people.
  • Sometimes a mentor can teach an approach or technique that a protégé uses for decades to come.
  • Even if the mentoring relationship doesn’t last a lifetime, it still has a value, and can have lasting benefits.
  • Like the other people we’ve featured so far, Jobs was keen to “pay it forward” by mentoring the next generation of technology leaders.

Could you be mentoring the next Steve Jobs? Share your wisdom with rising talent today.

Mike Bergelson

Mike Bergelson

CEO at Everwise

About the Author

Mike Bergelson is the CEO and a co-founder of Everwise, a talent development startup that connects employees to the people, development resources and experiences they need to thrive at every stage of their career.

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