Steve Jacobs may be at the center of Sony's efforts to transform itself from leading hardware manufacturer to leading manufacturer of new-media equipment and services. But at heart, he's a storyteller.
Before joining Sony, where he tells the company's story to engineers and broadcasters across the country, he told stories as a producer for a number of news organizations, including ABC and CBS.
"Even at Sony, I view myself as a storyteller," he says. "I look for an interesting character or series of facts and tell them as efficiently as the particular medium allows."
Like all good stories, Jacobs' career began with a touch of romance and drama. A Boston native attending Cornell University in the turbulent early 1970s, he found himself fascinated with broadcast-engineering technology and was working at the campus radio station, where he met his future wife. His first story was about campus demonstrators who took over a building on campus that housed a "very small" nuclear reactor.
"I was one of the few people who could write news copy that was accurate and not sensationalist on deadline," he recalls.
One of his first professional stops was at an AM station in Montgomery, Ala., where he had a daytime on-air slot. It was in Montgomery that Jacobs had more than a passing acquaintance with one of the century's more interesting American politicians: Alabama Gov. George Wallace.
"I remember once we were having lunch, and he told me with great glee that the wait staff were all convicted felons, but he reminded me that he only picked rapists and murderers, because he didn't want any thieves stealing the silverware," Jacobs recounts. "Whether it's true or not I don't know, but he said it with a straight face."
Jacobs' reaction? "Could you please pass the coffee?"
As a producer at CBS News from 1984 to 1994, Jacobs covered some of the biggest stories of the past 20 years. The Tiananmen Square student uprising in Beijing; the downing of Pan Am Flight 103 in Lockerbie, Scotland; and the Gulf War are just a few of the historical episodes that challenged his ability to tell a story.
"It's not history while you're doing it. It's storytelling," he says. "Tiananmen Square was arguably the only time when I felt I was part of history."
The Gulf War gave Jacobs an opportunity to make a "truly positive contribution to CBS News." It was around Thanksgiving 1990 when he defied the U.S. military to make sure CBS would be in Kuwait City ahead of American troops. He had two satellite uplink trucks broken down, put into cases and loaded on the back of two pickup trucks to go into the city undercover. Only one truck made it in. Lesson to CBS? Have two of everything for important stories.
In 1994, Jacobs made an internal move, becoming executive producer, CBS News special events. This led him to the position of executive producer, CBS News, new media, where he ran the editorial department.
Then came Sony, with what he saw as a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to join a company that has the widest possible range of assets and real possibilities." It also gave him a chance to work with two people he had worked with at CBS: Howard Stringer, chairman and CEO, Sony Corp., and Ed Grebow, president, Sony Electronics' Broadcast and Professional Co.
For now, Jacobs is responsible for sales and marketing of Sony's Internet and network- services business, including asset-management, Webcasting, archiving and newsroom systems. Sony has undertaken an initiative that will put the company at the center of a broadband experience driven by the television, computer and PlayStation.
"We recognize that Sony's traditional customer focus is going to have to carry out to these new media and delivery mechanisms," he says. "It's a phenomenon that is truly everywhere."