Meet the Woman Who Won Awards for Standing Up to Steve Jobs

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Joanna Hoffman, then Apple’s international marketing manager, once told Steve Job’s assistant, “I am going to take a knife and stab it into his heart,” after he changed her marketing projections to “reality distorting” levels. The woman who was not afraid to stand up to Apple Inc.’s co-founder even won an annual award from her colleagues for her fearlessness of Jobs during the same year, 1981, and then again in 1982.

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Her colleague Debi Coleman, who joined the Mac team in 1982, recalled:

“I remember being envious of Joanna, because she would stand up to Steve and I didn’t have the nerve yet.

“Then, in 1983, I got the award. I had learned you had to stand up for what you believe, which Steve respected. I started getting promoted by him after that.”

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Hoffman, now 60, was among the few people Jobs brought with him to NeXt, a computer and software company he founded after he was booted from Apple. Jobs expected his post-Apple team to create their next product in 18 months, but Hoffman was realistic and told him:

“Reality distortion has its motivational value and that’s fine, but when it comes to that date affecting the design of the product, that’s when we get into a rut. Real deep shit.”

Award-winning actress Kate Winslet is playing the role of Hoffman in the upcoming Steve Jobs biopic. Hoffman, a relatively unknown figure to the public, played a critical part in Macintosh’s early beginnings as the fifth member of its developer team.

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Hoffman was born to a Polish-Jewish film director, Jerzy Hoffman, and Armenian mother, Marlene. The University of Chicago alumna studied physics, linguistics and archaeology before taking a leave of absence and attending a lecture at Xerox PARC where she fatefully met Jef Raskin, an American human-computer interface expert who conceived the Macintosh project for Apple. She made quite the impression on Raskin, who encouraged Hoffman to apply.

Hoffman joined the team in September 1980 and helped write the first draft of Mac’s user interface guidelines. She also ran a one-woman marketing team for over a year and led Apple’s international marketing team, credited with bringing Mac to Europe and Asia.

Winslet stars in the Jobs biopic directed by Danny Boyle alongside Michael Fassbender, who plays Steve Jobs. The actress spoke with Speakeasy about her character in the film:

“She [Hoffman] was never intimidated by Steve Jobs. He didn’t scare her. She just always saw him as an equal and found him to be quite a challenging person, only because she wanted him to be the best version of himself that he could possibly be.”

“Shes the most inspiring person I honestly feel like I’ve ever played […]”

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Hoffman built a reputation for herself as a person who wasn’t afraid of standing up to Jobs. Winslet attributes Hoffman’s fearlessness to her childhood upbringing:

“She’s Polish-Armenian and she moved to America when she was a teenager. So there have been things that she has experienced as a child living in eastern Europe that made her a strong individual. People know very little about her until this moment of the film coming out, but she was like his work wife. She did not just stand up to him but she would put him right, she would make him correct things that he had sort of f–ed up.”

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Hoffman and Jobs shared a unique friendship and work relationship. She was his right-hand woman who freely spoke her mind. Winslet continued:

“But at the same time, there’s a warmth in Joanna that is reflected in Steve in the film because there was a friendship between the two of them that was very profound. He needed her and he counted on her. He knew that she had his back. He couldn’t have done without that, actually. They had a mutual respect for one another. They were very, very close friends until Steve passed away. It’s a really wonderful relationship and she would absolutely put him straight and yell at him.”

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