Monday, July 10, 2017

Addendum No. Three: Tech Big Shots I Have Known

My old friend Ann-Marie suggested I write about a few of the people I knew in tech. Though I knew none of them well, The people I found most appealing of all the honchos I met in high-tech were Jim Clark, founder of Silicon Graphics, Netscape, Healtheon/WebMD and MyCFO (Jim and I were both high school dropouts, but he's a wee bit richer than I am), John Warnock and Chuck Geschke, founders of Adobe, and George Lucas, creator of the Star Wars films, founder of Industrial Light & Magic and founder of the the George Lucas Educational Foundation where I knew him. Clark and I talked almost exclusively about dogs. He had two Samoyeds that he'd bring by my cubicle at SGI every couple weeks and we'd talk as the dogs snoozed or begged for treats; I'd bought a box of treats just for them so they always arrived at the cubicle 5 minutes before Jim did. We'd also discuss his love of sailing, and his ideas for a high tech boat. He mused about writing his life story, which he later did -- with the help of a friend of mine. He had an ego, but he mostly kept it partitioned off and only brought it out when dealing with other egos, notably engineers and other tech execs. I also had some dealings with Adobe's John Warnock and Chuck Geschke. (Years after I met Geschke, he was kidnapped and held for 5 days.) They were both warm, avuncular types, quite unlike the other various CEOs in Silicon Valley, most of whom were asshats of the 33rd degree. Warnock was at gathering once a few years back and attracted much attention by first spilling his drink then finding a rag to wipe up the mess with. People were amazed that a billionaire would do such a thing instead of expecting himself to be waited on, but that was typical of Warnock. It was also indicative of the pretentiousness and entitlement people expected of the high-tech big shots, and apparently still do. For about 9 months in 2006 I worked at Skywalker Ranch and attended many small meetings with George Lucas where I had a chance to observe him close-up. Skywalker is a surreal, too perfect sort of place, a result of George's cinema-besotted imagination and an endless amount of money. There's a sweetness and kindliness to George even though he is often remote and awkward. I suspect Asperger's. In any case, he was always friendly when I met with him, asking if I wanted coffee, offering a chair and so on, yet it was obvious he didn't do these things naturally. He'd been schooled, maybe by his overbearing secretary, to interact with people in such a way when he was hosting them. Also, he needed to employ these traits if he wanted to work in the necessarily collaborative film industry. His fame could not have been easy for him and he sought out ordinary places of refuge, such as a coffee shop I frequented long before I worked at Skywalker. He'd come in, sit at the counter by himself and chat with the waitress. She'd tell him about an argument she had with her mother and he'd sympathize, ask endless questions about the dull minutiae the young women had an endless supply of. They were mind-bogglingly boring conversations but Lucas loved them, did everything he could to extend them. 

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