Saturday, October 8, 2016

A Fabulous Conversation with Steve Wozniak - Co-Founder of Apple

Yesterday, after a three and a half hour journey (it was the Friday before the Columbus Day long weekend), from the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst, via the Mass Turnpike (a journey that should take no more than 2 hours), we arrived at The UMass Club in downtown Boston.

We were driven by a UMass student, Jenna, on a courtesy van provided by the Isenberg School to attend an event with Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple. The event was an inaugural lecture in a new series, part of the Isenberg School's #Driven campaign.

The van ride was long but what made it fun was being with colleagues such as my department chair, Iqbal Agha, the chair of the Finance department, Sanjay Nawalkha, and our new clinical professor, Charlie Johnson, who was hired for our entrepreneurship program, and has been a Boston lawyer for over 30 years. Also with us was our wonderful Isenberg School Communications Director, Lou Wigdor.

The faculty on the van had been invited to be table facilitators with the evening program consisting of a 60 minute conversation with Steve Wozniak, moderated by the fabulous Tom Ashbrook, the host of NPR's, On Point, followed by a dinner. Other faculty facilitators included the chair of the Marketing Department, the one and only Bruce Weinberg, and my colleague, Alan Robinson.

Attendance was great at this event, and several remarked to me that they heard of it on NPR a few days ago and decided to come. The view of Boston from The UMass Club, which is on the 32nd floor, was stunning. I saw several alums, including Vinnie Daboul!
Sitting with me at the table were several GE employees, an employee of Nuance Communications, of the Markley Group, and  Mendix, as well as an Operations and Information Management (OIM) undergraduate student who had volunteered to help out. We talked about our jobs, Wozniak, high tech, and had a great time.

It was fabulous to see the UMass President, Marty Meehan, there and I told him how one of my former students shared with me that, when he turned 21, and was then a student at UMass Lowell, President Meehan took him out to celebrate. The student will never forget this.

While nibbling on some canapes the conversation began and the energy of Wozniak was incredible. I had caught up with his travels by checking out his Twitter account and he had come in from London just the day before and the week before he had spoken in Canada. He lives in California.

He spoke on the founding of Apple, his childhood, during which he loved ham radios (my husband is a ham radio operator so I very much appreciated this) and also electronics. I am sure that many of you have read both the book on Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson and Wozniak's book iWoz. But it was extra special to see him in person and also to meet with him afterwards with a group asking for autographs. He, like Jobs, was a prankster, and usually got away with his pranks, since he did not advertise them.  He loved soldering and constructing computers so as to minimize resources, typically, computer chips. He clearly has a mindset of an Operations Researcher! He recalled fondly his time with the Homebrew Computer Club and thought that he would spend his entire life as an engineer at HP and could design computers in the off hours. His design of the Apple I and Apple II computers revolutionized personal computers and the computer industry.
He emphasized that happiness is important and his integrity was vivid throughout his presentation/conversation.  He said that he builds computers since he was inspired by social causes. Steve Jobs was the one with the business mind and, together, originally they had to hustle for the computer parts that they needed. He did mention that the Lisa and Apple III computers were not successful but he was not involved in their designs.

Interestingly, although the general public believes he is no longer with Apple, Wozniak actually still gets a paycheck from Apple. Apple II provided the company with revenues for 10 years. He also spoke about gaming and the importance of color and how the fact that Visicalc could run on an Apple computer very much helped in sales. People wanted computer solutions. Steve Jobs wanted computers to get easier and easier to use. He was not technical, according to Wozniak.

He said that in order to lead you have to be willing to take risks. Ashbrook asked him about the future of technology and Wozniak emphasized that we had earlier the advantage of Moore's Law. As for Artificial Intelligence, the question is how can it improve the world? 

He was proud that he eventually received his college degree from UC Berkeley but since he was already very well-known at that time, it is "Rocky" Raccoon Clark that appears ob his diploma.

He still has the first Apple I computer that he ever made.

Wozniak noted that we should be partners with computers.

He told us it is about "food, fun, and friends," and that his equation for happiness is: smiles minus frowns. He also mentioned that his wife is from Kansas.

We had time but only for a few questions and I enjoyed his insights on autonomous vehicles. 

It was a fantastic evening and we made it back to the Isenberg School in less than 2 hours. Joining us on the van back was Susan Boyer. The conversations were fabulous and the evening is one we will long remember.

Many thanks to Steve Wozniak  and to Tom Ashbrook as well as to the Isenberg Dean, Dr. Mark Fuller, and to Assistant Dean Chris Pilsner for organizing and making possible this great inaugural lecture! Also thanks to Associate Dean Tom Moliterno for inviting me to be a table facilitator at this great inaugural lecture.