'Steve Jobs Gave Me A Porsche'


 

Craig Elliott
The Porsche that started it all.

 

Driving away from a small town in Iowa in 1985, in a Porsche given to him by Steve Jobs, 23-year-old Craig Elliott traded farm life and his microbiology education for Silicon Valley. He never looked back.

 

"I can't imagine a time looking back and saying, I wish I took fewer risks," Elliott, now CEO of cloud networking startup Pertino, told CRN. There were unsuccessful business ventures and ideas that never came to fruition along the way, he said, but was pragmatic about it: "The cool thing about Silicon Valley is, here, failure is like a badge of honor."

But failure wasn’t on Elliott's mind at all in 1985 when he was awarded "Top Sales Person for Apple Computer" while working at computer reseller Beacon Microcenter in Ames, Iowa. Instead of giving Elliott a pat on the back or a signed certificate, the Apple CEO sent him a personal dinner invitation to come to California to discuss his impressive sales feat.

"It was all a little more than I could digest at the time," Elliott said, remembering opening the envelope with the Cupertino return address. "I thought one of my buddies was playing a joke on me, but I knew it was real because it was done on a laser printer and no one had those at the time, except for Apple headquarters."

Inside the envelope was the invitation to dinner with Jobs. That dinner led to a job offer in product marketing and network communications at Apple, sweetened by none other than that paid-in-full Porsche. After all, Elliott would need to leave his Iowa hometown and head west in style.

For Elliott, the move consisted of more change than just accepting a new job. He had taken the Beacon Microcenter job as a gap-year project, while saving to continue his graduate studies at Iowa State University. He had never intended to switch his focus from microbiology to computers.

He also was embarking on an entirely new corporate and cultural environment that was indeed uncharted territory. "The first building I worked in at Apple had more people than my hometown," Elliott remembered.

Elliott also assumed that being a "lowly, first-year Apple employee" meant he would never rub shoulders with the top executives. But he was soon proven wrong, as he found himself writing speeches for Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and John Sculley, who would eventually become CEO of Apple. Elliott also remembers riding the elevator and chatting with William Campbell, the charismatic vice president of marketing and former Columbia University football coach.

The average age of Apple employees in 1985 was between 26 and 27 years old, said Elliott. "There were a lot of young folks with a lot of responsibility. We were getting our MBA at Apple with real money instead of [in school] with case studies."

NEXT: Elliott's Next Venture And New Horizons