In the summer of 1984, a young Mark Achler sat in an Apple Computer Board of Directors meeting with Steve Jobs discussing ideas for an event for Apple retailers. They would invite retailers to one location to introduce them to new products and provide some technical training. Before that time, Apple did product training road shows. The growth in popularity of Apple products, however, made the road shows impractical; bringing everyone to one location seemed a lot more efficient and fun. As it turns out, this was the beginning of what would later become the  Mac World Expo.

Steve was excited about the upcoming event and he wanted to have a party to entertain the retailers. He thought they should hire Michael Jackson. He looked at Mark and said, “go call Michael Jackson and see if he can play at our party and how much it will cost. Then come back in here and let me know.”

“Okay,” said Mark.

Whenever Steve Jobs made a request,there are few answers that would suffice- this was one of them. Mark stood up and walked out of the Board Meeting with no idea how to accomplish the task.

At the time, Michael Jackson was the single hottest celebrity on earth.  He was more popular than any other celebrity in the history of the world. He recently won eight Grammy Awards including album of the year for his album Thriller. Today, it remains the best-selling album of all time, with sales estimates of over 110 million copies. President Ronald Regan personally awarded him the Presidential Public Safety Award after the song Beat It was used in a public service commercial against teen drinking and driving.

Mark had just promised Steve Jobs that he would call Michael Jackson, find out if he would play for the party, how much it would cost, and then report back immediately. He returned to his cubicle, picked up the phone and dialed 411.

Thinking Big

Few people in this world have had the privilege of being stuck between two of the biggest personalities of all time. Big personalities think big. Steve Jobs had big thoughts, big dreams, and big expectations. As entrepreneurs, we all need to do our best to think big, but thinking big and dreaming big aren’t the same thing. It’s easy to dream big. We can all close our eyes and picture a scene in which we are acquiring Google in a hostile takeover. It’s fun, but it’s still just a dream.

Only big thinkers can realize big dreams.  The way I see it, thinking big is about perspective.  Big thinkers perceive big thoughts as normal, whereas small thinkers perceive big thoughts as huge.

Steve Jobs didn’t think twice about sending a 24-year-old kid to call the single biggest celebrity of all time. To him, this was a reasonable request. At that moment in time, Mark had two choices. The first was to think small and say something like, “how the HELL am I supposed to do that??” Or, he could think big and do as he did—just say: “Okay.”

To his credit, Mark chose to think big. It’s no surprise that he is now one of the Senior Executives of Red Box where he currently serves as SVP of Strategy, Innovation & New Business.  A perfect gig for someone who thinks big.

Talking to Jackson

“What city and state?,” crackled the 411 operator.

“Los Angeles, California,” Mark told her. “I’m trying to reach Michael Jackson and I know the number is probably unlisted, but if you were in my shoes how would you go about reaching him?”

“Well,” she answered, “I can give you the number of the record company…”

Five minutes later, Mark was on the phone with Michael Jackson himself. Michael listened to Mark as he described the event and the party, along with the request from Steve Jobs. He was interested. He was an Apple fan. He would be happy to do it. “Great!,” said Mark, “how much?”

“Five million dollars,” replied Michael. He was a big thinker, too.

The Apple party was great. Everyone had a blast. Herbie Hancock played and it rocked.

Photography: Earl Wilkerson