Steve's Jobs' Better Half.

Steve finds it much easier to talk about work than family. He was invited to share his thoughts on entrepreneurialism with the students of Stanford Business School in 1991. Steve is typically the definition of poise and charm on stage; but this time he was fixated on a blond woman sitting in the front row. For once, he faltered. He forgot the words. If you listened carefully, you could hear Steve's well-oiled charisma machine grinding to a halt. After the awkward speech, he was about to escape to a business meeting; but something stopped him. The hopeless romantic remembers the moment like this:

I was in the parking lot with the key in the car, and I thought to myself, 'If this is my last night on earth, would I rather spend it at a business meeting or with this woman?' I ran across the parking lot and asked her if she'd have dinner with me.

Steve couldn't stop talking to anyone who would listen about Laurene Powell. Every day he dashed from his office to have lunch at Stanford with his new lady friend. Laurene moved in with Steve after she graduated. Within a year, Laurene was pregnant and they were married in a small chapel amongst the Yosemite wilderness. The couple invited only a few of guests. The modest ceremony was conducted by Kobun Chino from Steve’s days at the Los Altos Zen Centre. Armed with her third university degree, it would have been an easy career move for Laurene to work for her husband’s billion-dollar company. However, she had more noble ideas. 

Before studying at Stanford, Laurene worked as a fixed income-trading strategist at Goldman Sachs. That is exactly what it sounds like – a job making rich people richer.  In the years after Laurene resigned, Goldman Sachs profited enormously from the subprime mortgage crisis, the food crisis, and the global financial crisis. After becoming a mother, Laurene felt she had more important things to do rather than work for another corporate giant. Her journey began with a half-hour drive to an over-populated high school in Carlmont in 1995.  This was the school that inspired the film Dangerous Minds - which screened later that year.

Freshmen at Carlmont High were automatically shoved into remedial classes if they were black or Hispanic. These classes ruined their chances of going to college. Hundreds of bright kids were overlooked because of their race. (Zinko, 2008). One day Principal Debra Lindo met Laurene, a volunteer tutor who offered to help. She was calm, determined, and passionate. Debra said, “You could tell as we started talking that she was outraged about the injustices that were persisting in the school and wanted to do something about it”.[1] Laurene was quoted in a rare interview:

If you're a kid who has taken algebra in middle school and gotten an A and are put in ninth grade in a pre-algebra class, it can make you very angry. Given that you're going to high school 45 minutes away, your parents are working two jobs, parental involvement is needed and there's one counselor per 1,600 students, you feel stuck ... very angry. This is why kids get disenfranchised.[2]

This was the beginning of a program called College Track. Her aim is to "transform low-income communities into places where college readiness and college graduation are the norms". Students are never questioned about their immigration status. It is not an issue.

College Track student David Cruz was on a quite different track before he met Laurene. Even before he began school at Carlmont, David had been allocated to join his older brother's Latino gang. There was a fight at school and his mother abandoned him at his Aunts. David then struck an unlikely friendship with Laurene. With her help, he began submitting A-grade assignments and made peace with his mother. Laurene sometimes has lunch with David. She encourages him to apply to New York University for film school. David can't say enough about his mentor,

She gets right to the facts. She has no time to mess around. I understood what it's like to be a positive leader from her. I also like her vision of what America is. You have to have a very egalitarian worldview if you're helping students of color go to college and you're the epitome of a white rich woman.

Laurene has become a quiet but powerful champion of Hispanic issues. Using money from her personal savings, she and others began a movement to change immigration laws. The 'Voto Latino' project uses text messaging, Twitter, Facebook, and Apple iTunes to gather support. Laurene prefers to keep quiet about her involvement, “I’m more passionate about working than talking about work.”  She explains. A colleague added, “She operates behind the scene because she wants the organization to succeed on its own so that the infrastructure is stronger and not only built on one person.”[3] This is a far cry from her husband who has carefully built a cult of personality around himself. Charity is not his forte either. Bloomberg reports that no Apple money is given to charity; whereas Microsoft hands over 1.7% of its profit to the needy. Apple was featured as one of "America's Least Philanthropic Companies in The Stanford Social Innovation Review.[4]

If you asked Steve why he is drawn to Laurene, he would say that she is beautiful, vegetarian, smart, and - best of all - has a good résumé. However, his attraction to her runs deeper than this. Steve has found his better half in Laurene. A man’s better half is explained rather well by Rick Johnson, a prolific author and speaker on the subject of men’s issues:

…during childhood, certain traits or facets of our psyche and personality are unhealthily repressed, denied, or lost, creating a false self-image or at least a partial psyche that we present to the world and even to ourselves. Therefore, when we meet someone who possesses those traits we have repressed or lost, we are naturally drawn to them as a way of vicariously attempting to regain our wholeness. We feel comfortable, for that person’s strengths round out our being, and thus we are drawn to them.[5]

You could make a lazy assumption that Laurene saw only dollar signs when she met him. Actually, she fell for him at his lowest point, not his highest. The man she married was haemorrhaging money as she took her vows. This was not a woman digging for gold, but taking a risk for true love.

In September 2010, Laurene broke out of her guarded low profile. During the annual Clinton Global Initiative, Laurene spoke as the education master of ceremonies. The annual meeting aims to solve the world’s most pressing problems. The audience included President Clinton and his wife, the Mayor of New York, Richard Branson, the YouTube and Google CEOs, and a bevy of Hollywood stars such as Shakira, Ashton Kutcher, and Kevin Spacey. The most familiar guest to Laurene was seated front and centre - her husband’s old sparring partner, Bill Gates. Unlike her husband at the podium, she glows with humility. Laurene carefully reads from the pages of a prepared speech. She falters at the occasional word, but keeps smiling warmly at fellow philanthropists as they step up and join her on stage. Laurene draws raw courage from the strength of her simple beliefs. The night ends with President Obama saying, "I am here to introduce my better half … Michelle Obama."

[1] Didziulis, V (2010, April) iDream. Poder360.

[2] Zinko, C (2008, June 8) On Track to College. San Francisco Chronicle.

[3] Didziulis, V (2010, April) iDream. Poder360.

[4] Ni, P. (2007, June 20) America's Least Philanthropic Companies. Stanford Social Innovation Review.

[5] Johnson, R. (2010) Becoming Your Spouse's Better Half: Why Differences Make a Marriage Great. Revell.


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