This may not be widely known, but it’s an interesting piece of history that’s now confirmed: Steve Jobs personally tried to recruit Kevin Lynch to Apple after the big Flash debate in 2010. Lynch, of course, was Adobe’s chief technology officer at the time and had just went head-to-head with Apple CEO Steve Jobs over Flash and iOS.
Apple later hired Lynch away from Adobe in 2013, giving him the title VP of Technology and a project that would later become the Apple Watch, a hire that was widely seen as a bizarre move. Tim Cook’s Apple hired the guy that Steve Jobs basically destroyed…
Kevin Lynch has since enjoyed lengthy amounts of stage time during recent Apple keynotes. In September 2014, Lynch demoed the Apple Watch to the world for the first time months before it was available to purchase. Then in June at Apple’s annual WWDC event, Lynch demoed the watchOS 2 software update on stage to developers and the world.
While it hasn’t been widely discussed that Jobs had tried (and failed) to recruit the Adobe CTO in 2010, Lynch confirmed the detail in a recent commencement address delivered to University of Illinois at Chicago’s mid-year graduating class:
I’ve been through a number of challenging situations. One of these was getting into a disagreement several years ago with Steve before I was with Apple — it was not easy and I didn’t win the argument, but something surprising happened. Steve got to know me better and asked me to work with him. I felt I couldn’t join at the time, but he left the door open. Later, he tragically passed away. I couldn’t stop thinking of our conversations and am so happy I did join Apple, and have been giving my all since.
I did this with a leap of faith, not knowing exactly what we would build, but that I’d be working with the truly amazing team at Apple. My first day I learned the mission was to create the Apple Watch, and that we had a lot of work to do. It has been a series of incredible engineering and design challenges since.
I say this tidbit was confirmed and not discovered because while it felt fresh upon hearing, the detail was somewhere back in my head but not easily available in print. I racked my brain and sourced it back to an episode of John Gruber’s podcast (~1 hour 14 minutes in) from April where he said a Cupertino “birdie” in a position to know (my guess on this one is Schiller) said that Jobs had tried to recruit Lynch after the Flash episode, but Lynch worried leaving then would look bad for Adobe. Notably, Gruber had previously said that Lynch was a “bozo, a bad hire,” due largely to his work on Flash and his public conflict with Jobs.
Yet three years later, Lynch made the jump to Tim Cook’s Apple and began his contribution to the Apple Watch. Jony Ive told Bloomberg Businessweek last year that the Apple Watch project began shortly after Jobs’ death in 2011 (although that’s recently been curiously disputed), so I wonder what role Jobs initially had in mind for Lynch.
In 2013, Lynch reported to Bob Mansfield, then Apple’s SVP of Technology, who retired and had duties go to Dan Riccio, SVP of Hardware Engineering, and Jeff Williams, then SVP of Operations who recently got promoted to Chief Operating Officer.
More thinking out loud: will Lynch eventually be promoted to SVP of Technology and earn a profile on Apple’s leadership page like Mansfield had? Technically key VPs have profiles now too but Lynch isn’t included. Maybe this is related to how well Apple Watch 2 does this spring.
At any rate, Lynch’s history with Apple starts long before he joined the company and has got to be one of the most interesting hires (that Lynch was potentially a bad hire was hard to argue against in 2013). Kevin Lynch, Apple VP of Technology, despite Jobs’ Thoughts on Flash essay (Flash, of course, is now walking dead) and the somewhat hard-to-find, goofy Mythbusters-style video where Lynch destroys an iPhone, now with the Steve Jobs stamp of approval.