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Steve Jobs was ‘brutal’ but ‘brilliant’ in motivating workers, Utah Top Workplaces speaker recalls

This year’s Top Workplaces rankings and special awards from The Salt Lake Tribune and Energage are in.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Award winners gather for group photos as The Salt Lake Tribune hosts Utah’s Top Workplaces in partnership with Energage for the ninth year running, presenting awards in downtown Salt Lake City celebrating the state’s best small, medium and large companies, on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022.

The first time Barry Waitte met Steve Jobs, Waitte was working at Tektronix, Inc. — where, he thought at the time, “we have serious computers, we solve serious problems.”

By contrast, he recalls telling Jobs at a party in San Jose in 1980, “you’ve got a great Pong machine.”

So, Waitte added dryly, “it wasn’t a pleasant conversation.“ But shortly afterward, he got a call from Jobs inviting him to work in marketing at Apple — where he stayed for 14 years and was involved in the start of the Macintosh computer.

Waitte shared his memories of Jobs and lessons he’s learned from his own long career as annual Top Workplaces rankings and special awards for Utah businesses were announced Wednesday at the Salt Lake City Center Hilton. An entrepreneur and owner of Tamber Bay Vineyards in Napa Valley, Waitte described the late Jobs as still being a voice in his head that reminds him to live life on his own terms.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Awards are polished as The Salt Lake Tribune hosts Utah’s Top Workplaces in partnership with Energage for the ninth year running as it presents awards in downtown Salt Lake City, celebrating the state’s best small, medium and large companies, on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022.

About four months into his job at Apple, Waitte said, Jobs told a room full of employees, “There are three types of people that work in this room.”

The “A players” lived their jobs — some were engineers who literally lived at the company, Waitte said. B players were still devoted, spending up to 80 hours a week at work, he added. And, as described by Jobs, the C players treated their jobs as jobs — and would “go home and have lives,” he said.

Jobs pointed to people in the room, one by one, and told them which category he believed they fell into, Waitte said.

Then he announced that for the C players, it was their last day of work at Apple.

Though brutal, the “brilliance” of that act, Waitte said, was in both cutting down the company 10% — as the board had mandated — and addressing the question, “How do you motivate the B players? Because those are the ones that are gonna make the difference.”

Jobs could be brutal and inspiring, sometimes in one speech, Waitte said, and could “make people cry for both reasons.”

After recounting his own career and adventures, and both Jobs’ and his own battles with cancer, Waitte concluded, “I think it’s appropriate to end my talk today on a quote that Steve gave at the 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University, summarizing his advice to these newly minted graduates.

“He was also speaking about death, talking about his encounter with cancer. He said, ‘Your life is limited. So don’t live somebody else’s life. Stay hungry. Be foolish.’”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Barry Waitte delivers the keynote address as The Salt Lake Tribune hosts Utah’s Top Workplaces in partnership with Energage for the ninth year running, during presentation awards in downtown Salt Lake City, celebrating the state’s best small, medium and large companies, on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022.

Wednesday’s event celebrated Utah businesses that motivate and uplift their employees — as ranked by workers themselves. The Salt Lake Tribune partnered with tech firm Energage to gather nominations and survey employees in the state for Utah′s Top Workplaces 2022, for small, medium and large companies.

The Philadelphia-based firm uses data on Top Workplaces to operate a platform meant to help companies engage better with their employees.

In addition to the Top Workplaces rankings, 15 companies received special awards for specific cultural achievements, like having good leadership or benefits.

Atomic Fi, which makes software to make direct payments simpler, was awarded the New Ideas award, meaning that new ideas are encouraged at the company.

“Every place I’ve ever worked for has talked about autonomy — [I’ve] never seen it more prevalent than here,” said Daniel Winn, head of talent at Atomic Fi.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) People cheer the Salt Lake Tribune’s Top Workplaces awards recipients in partnership with Energage for the ninth year running in downtown Salt Lake City celebrating the state’s best small, medium and large companies, on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022.

Though the company focuses on direct deposit connections, many of the new features and ideas that the company has pursued “have come from individual contributors on the team,” Winn said.

CEO and co-founder Jordan Wright recognizes that individuals have their own expertise and can make their own contributions, Winn said, adding he’s been able to contribute to parts of the company outside his own conventional role.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Granite Credit Union employees gather for a group photo with their Top Workplaces award as The Salt Lake Tribune hosts Utah’s Top Workplaces in partnership with Energage for the ninth year running. The awards were passed out in downtown Salt Lake City, celebrating the state’s best small, medium and large companies, on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022.

Leto Sapunar is a Report for America corps member covering business accountability and sustainability for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Salt Lake Tribune hosts Utah’s Top Workplaces in partnership with Energage for the ninth year running as it presents awards in downtown Salt Lake City, celebrating the state’s best small, medium and large companies, on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022.