Character is Destiny: In Fond Appreciation of Chuck Geschke

“Imagine what you can create.
Create what you can imagine.”

So said the first Adobe video I ever saw, back in 1993 when I’d just started college & attended the Notre Dame Mad Macs user group. I saw it just that once, 20+ years ago, but the memory is vivid: an unfolding hand with an eye in the palm encircled by the words “Imagine what you can create. Create what you can imagine.” I was instantly hooked.

I got to mention this memory to Adobe founders Chuck Geschke & John Warnock at a dinner some 15 years later. Over that whole time—through my college, Web agency, and ultimately Adobe roles—the company they started had fully bent the arc of my career, as it continues to do today. I wish I’d had the chance to talk more with Chuck, who passed away on Friday. Outside of presenting to him & John at occasional board meetings, however, that’s all the time we had. Still, I’m glad I had the chance to share that one core memory.

I’ll always envy my wife Margot for getting to spend what she says was a terrific afternoon with him & various Adobe women leaders a few years back:

“Everyone sweeps the floor around here”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cited this story (source) from Adobe’s early history, as it’s such a beautiful distillation of the key cultural duality that Chuck & John instilled from the start:

The hands-on nature of the startup was communicated to everyone the company brought onboard. For years, Warnock and Geschke hand-delivered a bottle of champagne or cognac and a dozen roses to a new hire’s house. The employee arrived at work to find hammer, ruler, and screwdriver on a desk, which were to be used for hanging up shelves, pictures, and so on.

“From the start we wanted them to have the mentality that everyone sweeps the floor around here,” says Geschke, adding that while the hand tools may be gone, the ethic persists today.

“Charlie, you finally did it.”

I’m inspired reading all the little anecdotes & stories of inspiration that my colleagues are sharing, and I thought I’d cite one in particular—from Adobe’s 35th anniversary celebration—that made me smile. Take it away, Chuck:

I have one very special moment that meant a tremendous amount to me. Both my grandfather and my father were letterpress photoengravers — the people who made color plates to go into high-quality, high-volume publications such as Time magazine and all the other kinds of publishing that was done back then.

As we were trying to take that very mechanical chemical process and convert it into something digital, I would bring home samples of halftones and show them to my father. He’d say, “Hmm, let me look at that with my loupe,” because engravers always had loupes. He’d say, “You know, Charles, that doesn’t look very good.” Now, when my dad said, “Charles,” it was bad news.

About six months later, I brought him home something that I knew was spot on. All the rosettes were perfect. It was a gorgeous halftone. I showed it to my dad and he took his loupe out and he looked at it, and he smiled and said, “Charlie, you finally did it.” And, to me, that was probably one of the biggest high points of the early part of my career here.

And a final word, which I’ll share with my profound thanks:

“An engineer lives to have his idea embodied in a product that impacts the world.” Mr. Geschke said. “I consider myself the luckiest man on Earth.”

One thought on “Character is Destiny: In Fond Appreciation of Chuck Geschke

  1. John – that was a very nice, kind, and generous tribute to Chuck, a man I never met, but to whom—with John Warnock and many, many others—enabled my renaissance in photography and creative arts. Thanks for the insight on Chuck and the Adobe culture. As an aside, Adobe sounds like the kind of company I would have liked to work for in my career: a company that cares about it’s employees as people, not just for the intellectual skills and knowledge they bring to Adobe products.

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