Pixar’s first finance chief on why he decided to work for Steve Jobs

Anyone who has read a chapter — or even a page — of a Steve Jobs biography knows it wasn’t just smooth sailing for the founder of Apple (AAPL), though it’s easy to glamorize his journey to building perhaps the most important tech company of this generation.

While we may now revere the late Jobs as an unstoppable visionary, it took a lot of guts and risk tolerance to work for him when he had sunk to one of the lowest points in his professional life.

Jobs recruited Lawrence Levy in 1994 as Pixar’s first-ever finance chief. This was during a particularly rough patch in his career, after Jobs was ousted from Apple and his legacy was being defined by his recent failures — like the original Apple Macintosh and the NeXT computer.

The first chapter of Levy’s new book “To Pixar and Beyond: My unlikely journey with Steve Jobs to make entertainment history,” is actually entitled “Why would you want to do that?” referring to his decision to join Pixar as CFO.

Everyone around him questioned why he would want to work for Jobs, given his recent track record.

“It was a low point for him and even Pixar’s reputation was low. They had tried but never had really gone anywhere,” Levy acknowledged.

But he said he found a kindred spirit in Jobs. “I connected with [Steve] right away. We had a great chemistry and I thought, ‘This is someone I can really work with,'” he told Yahoo Finance.

He was ultimately sold on the job, however, when he actually went to Pixar to meet with the company’s chief creative officer, John Lasseter, and its president, Ed Catmull. There was a certain je ne sais quoi in their small but nimble team. “I thought, ‘I don’t know how these guys are going to make it but they are winners,'” he said.

After seeing a short clip (without music or voices) of “Toy Story” a year before it came out, he said he knew magic was happening somewhere in the Pixar building.

“That’s when I decided to take the plunge,” he said.

Life post-Pixar

He has never regretted working for Pixar and recommends that fresh college grads and young professionals also take risks.

“Go get experience. Go deeply into something. It doesn’t matter if that something is even necessarily the thing that you really want to do … But it’s like climbing a mountain. You can’t circle the base of the mountain; you have to climb it. It won’t be the last mountain you ever climb, but the experience you gain from doing it will take you to the next one,” he advised.

And Levy has certainly practiced what he’s preaching. After Disney (DIS) acquired Pixar in 2006, Levy, who was on the now-dissolved board of directors, went on a different journey. He left the corporate world to study Eastern philosophy and meditation.

“I wanted to resolve other questions that I had about bringing balance and harmony into lives that can be very one-dimensionally focused on performance,” he said.

Levy said he and Jobs, known for his passion for Zen meditation, inspired one another.

In fact, his fondest memory of Jobs is rather mundane.

“[He would wander] over to my house, [knock] on the door in the afternoon and say, ‘Hey want to go for a walk?’ It was just kind of warm and inviting and we had a lot of good times doing that. My whole relationship with him was a privilege.”

Melody Hahm is a writer at Yahoo Finance, covering entrepreneurship, technology and real estate. Follow her on Twitter @melodyhahm.

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