In the wake of his resignation from Apple Computer last week, cofounder Steve Jobs spent three and a half hours talking about his ordeal, as well as his past and future, with NEWSWEEK's Gerald C. Lubenow and Michael Rogers. Excerpts:
Q. Was there a point at which Apple stopped being fun?
A. Well, Apple was about as pure of a Silicon Valley company as you could imagine. We started in a garage. Woz (co-founder Stephen Wozniak) and I both grew up in Silicon Valley. Our role model was Hewlett-Packard (the electronics company). And so I guess that's what we went into it thinking. Hewlett-Packard, you know, Jobs and Wozniak. And, as you recall, it was a very small company for a long time. But the industry started to grow very rapidly in the 1979-80 time frame. The Macintosh team was what is commonly known now as intrapreneurship—only a few years before the term was coined—a group of people going in essence back to the garage, but in a large company. But again, that was a core team of 50 people. So that attracted a lot of people that really did want to work at a small company, in a way.
Q. But were things generally going as you wanted them to for Apple and for Steve Jobs?
A. Well, if I look at myself and ask, "What am I best at and what do I enjoy most doing?" I think what I'm best at is creating sort of new innovative products. That's what I enjoy doing. I enjoy, and I'm best working with, a small team of talented people. That's what I did with the Apple II, and that's what I did with the Macintosh.
And, you know, over the summer, I've obviously had a lot of time to think about things. I had a piece of paper one day and I was writing down what were the things that I cared most about, that I was most proud of personally, about my 10 years at Apple. There's obviously the creation of the products Apple II and Macintosh. But other than that, the thing that I really cared about was helping to set up the Apple Education Foundation. I came up with this crazy idea that turned into a program called "The Kids Can't Wait," where we tried to give a computer to every school in America and ended up giving one to every school in California, about 10,000 computers. So if I put those two together, working with small teams of really talented people to create breakthrough products, and education, that's where the idea for doing what I'm doing now came from.
Q. Once John Sculley came in and took over, how did your role change? Was there somepoint when you thought, "I'm not having a lot of fun running this giant corporation?"
A. I was very happy in the early days of Macintosh. Really, up until very near the end. I don't think that my role in life is to run big organizations and do incremental improvements. Well, you know, I think that John felt that after the reorganization, it was important for me to not be at Apple for him to accomplish what he wanted to accomplish. And, as you know, he issued that public statement that there was no role for me there then or in the future, or in the foreseeable future. And that was about as black-and-white as you need to make things. Probably a little more black-and-white than it needed to be. And I, you know, I respect his right to make that decision.
Q. How did you react when you heard the board's decision? These were people that you knew and worked with for a long time.
A. Oh, yeah. I mean in my wildest imagination, I couldn't have come up with such a wild ending to all of this. I had hoped that my life would take on the quality of an interesting tapestry where I would have weaved in and out of Apple: I would have been there a period of time, and maybe I would have gone off and done something else to contribute, but connected with Apple, and then maybe come back and stay for a lengthy time period and then go off and do something else. But it's just not going to work out that way. So I had 10 of the best years of my life, you know. And I don't regret much of anything.
Q. Is there an inevitable break between being an entrepreneur and a businessman? Arethe people who get things going different?
A. I don't know. You look back at the personal-computer industry, IBM and DEC and Hewlett-Packard weren't the people that invented the personal computer. It took a bunch of rambunctious upstarts, working with very little resources but a certain amount of vision and commitment, to do it. And Apple has clearly now joined that status and the ranks of those other companies. It probably is true that the people who have been able to come up with the innovations in many industries are maybe not the people that either are best skilled at, or, frankly, enjoy running a large enterprise where they lose contact with the day-to-day workings of that innovative process. Dr. Land at Polaroid, he's a perfect example.
I personally, man, I want to build things. I'm 30. I'm not ready to be an industry pundit. I got three offers to be a professor during this summer, and I told all of the universities that I thought I would be an awful professor. What I'm best at doing is finding a group of talented people and making things with them. I respect the direction that Apple is going in. But for me personally, you know, I want to make things. And if there's no place for me to make things there, then I'll do what I did twice before. I'll make my own place. You know, I did it in the garage when Apple started, and I did it in the metaphorical garage when Mac started.
Q. That leads to the next question. . .
A. And in 10 years will I be faced with the same dilemma again? Maybe, maybe I will.
Q. Have you set aside in your own mind any desire to do another Apple?
A. Oh, yeah. Absolutely. I helped shepherd Apple from a garage to a billion-and-a-half-dollar company. I'm probably not the best person in the world to shepherd it to a five- or ten-billion-dollar company, which I think is probably its destiny. And so I haven't got any sort of odd chip on my shoulder about proving anything to myself or anybody else. And remember, though the outside world looks at success from a numerical point of view, my yardstick might be quite different than that. My yardstick may be how every computer that's designed from here on out will have to be at least as good as a Macintosh.
Q. Are you saying in there that you could have run the giant Apple?
A. If I had felt that I was the person to run Apple in 1983, then I would have thrown my own name into the hat for the job, which I did not. So it was a conscious decision on my part to find John Sculley.
Q. Were you surprised how that all turned out?
A. If my vote had counted for everything at Apple, I certainly would not have told Steve Jobs that there was no place for him at Apple. But my vote was just one vote. So...
Q. In the end it did get down to who would run the company.
A. I think, more importantly, it was which philosophy and perspective, more than an individual person. You know, my philosophy is—it's always been very simple. And it has its flaws, which I'll go into. My philosophy is that everything starts with a great product. So, you know, I obviously believed in listening to customers, but customers can't tell you about the next breakthrough that's going to happen next year that's going to change the whole industry. So you have to listen very carefully. But then you have to go and sort of stow away—you have to go hide away with people that really understand the technology, but also really care about the customers, and dream up this next breakthrough. And that's my perspective, that everything starts with a great product. And that has its flaws. Ihave certainly been accused of not listening to the customers enough. And I think there is probably a certain amount of that that's valid.
Q. Can you describe a little bit your role at Apple after the reorganization?
A. My calendar had some commitments on it that obviously were slightly more long-term than I could adjust immediately. Those included a trip to the Soviet Union; it included a trip to introduce the Macintosh office products in Europe. Given the state of mind I was in, I think I did a pretty good job for the company with that. But I was, you know, asked to move out of my office. They leased a little building across the street from most of the other Apple buildings. I, we nicknamed it Siberia.
Q. How were you told about that?
A. My associate was told about it. Yeah, she said, "They want you to get out in two weeks."
Q. How did you feel?
A. Well, given the background of the other feelings I was feeling at the time, this was nothing out of the ordinary. So I moved across the street, and I made sure that all of the executive staff had my home phone number. I knew that John had it, and I called the rest of them personally and made sure they had it and told them that I wanted to be useful in any way i could, and to please call me if I could help on anything. And they all had a, you know, a cordial phrase, but none of them ever called back. And so I used to go into work, I'd get there and I would have one or two phone calls to perform, a little bit of mail to look at. But ... this was in June, July ... most of the corporate-management reports stopped flowing by my desk. A few people might see my car in the parking lot and come over and commiserate. And I would get depressed and go home in three or four hours, really depressed. I did that a few times and I decided that was mentally unhealthy. So I just stopped going in. You know, there was nobody really there to miss me.
Q. Do you feel that they have taken your company away from you?
A. To me, Apple exists in the spirit of the people that work there, and the sort of philosophies and purpose by which they go about their business. So if Apple just becomes a place where computers are a commodity item and where the romance is gone, and where people forget that computers are the most incredible invention that man has ever invented, then I'll feel I have lost Apple. But if I'm a million miles away and all those people still feel those things and they're still working to make the next great personal computer, then I will feel that my genes are still in there.
Q. Does it still have that spirit now?
A. Well, I think you got a good ... I'm not the one to ask that. You're putting me in a tough spot.
Q. When you were going into Apple during the summer, were you already thinking about alternatives?
Q. You still thought there was a chance they'd make an R&D group for Steve to run?
A. The hardest, one of the five most difficult days was that day John said at the analysts meeting about there not being a role for me in the future, and he said it again in another analysts meeting a week later. He didn't say it to me directly, he said it to the press. You've probably had somebody punch you in the stomach and it knocks the wind out of you and you can't breathe. If you relax you'll start breathing again. That's how I felt all summer long. The thing I had to do was try to relax. It was hard. But I went for a lot of long walks in the woods and didn't really talk to a lot of people.
And gradually my spirits started to come back little by little. And you know, just a few weeks ago, this education thing popped out. I had been reading some biochemistry, recombinant DNA literature. (I had recently met) Paul Berg, the inventor of some of the recombinant techniques. I called him up and I said, "You remember me, I'm ignorant about this stuff, but I've got a bunch of questions about how it works, and I'd love to have lunch with you." So we had lunch at Stanford. He was showing me how they were doing gene repairing. Actually, it's straightforward, it's kind of neat. It smells a lot like some of the concepts you find in computer science. So he was explaining how he does experiments in a wet laboratory and they take a week or two or three to run. I asked him, "Why don't you simulate these on a computer? Not only will it allow you to run your experiments faster, but someday every freshman microbiology student in the country can play with the Paul Berg recombinant software." So his eyes lit up.
And that was sort of a landmark lunch. Because that's when I started to really think about this stuff, and get my wheels turning again. I was real excited. It's not to get rich. I don't care about getting rich anymore. One of the things I've thought about a lot is I'm 30, and I can look back on the last 10 years of my life and I feel pretty good about it. I'd like to do something again where I personally, when I'm 40, will look back and say, "You know, I spent my 30s well."
Q. Why don't you tell us some of the details of how this new thing came together?
A. The interesting thing about the group is that we've all known each other for four years. And we have an immense amount of confidence in each others' abilities and genuinely like each other. And all have a desire to have a small company where we can influence its destiny and have a really fun place to work. We talked about this enterprise, you know, for the first time less than two weeks before I told the board that I wanted to start this company. And we have no business plan. We haven't done anything. Now, you might say we're all crazy. We have a general direction. We want to find out what higher education needs. We plan to go visit a lot of colleges in October and just listen. Then we want to build it for them, whatever it is. Courseware, whatever.
Q. You've talked about being tough to get along with, having a rough-edge personality. Did you contribute in some way to your own downfall?
A. You know, I'm not a 62-year-old statesman that's traveled around the world all his life. So I'm sure that there was a situation when I was 25 that if I could go back, knowing what I know now, I could have handled much better. And I'm sure I'll be able to say the same thing when I'm 35 about the situation in 1985. I can be very intense in my convictions. And I don't know; all in all, I kind of like myself and I'm not that anxious to change.
Q. But has this experience changed you?
A. Oh, this has—yeah, I think I am growing from this, and I think I'm learning a lot from it. I'm not sure how or what yet. But yes, I feel that way. (But) I'm not bitter. I'm not bitter.
Q. Can you talk a little about how your relationship with John Sculley has changed?
A. Well, given the fact that I've spoken to him only three times since (May)—that says something about the degree of communication we've had—I don't know what will happen with my relationship with John.
Q. What did you learn from it so far?
A. If John Sculley calls me on the phone, I'll answer it.
Q. We wanted to talk about you personally.
A. What have we been talking about?
Q. We mean apart from Apple.
Q. There's been a lot in the press about your interest in Buddhism, vegetarianism.
A. As we descend into the isms.
Q. The isms. Are you still interested in those things?
A. Well, I don't know what to say. I mean I don't eat meat, and I don't go to church every Sunday.
Q. They said at some point you had thought of going to Japan and sitting in a monastery.
A. Yeah, yeah. I'm glad I didn't do that. I know this is going to sound really, really corny. But I feel like I'm an American, and I was born here. And the fate of the world is in America's hands right now. I really feel that. And you know I'm going to live my life here and do what I can to help.
Q. A lot of people, given your sort of iconic existence, think about politics.
A. Well, I have thought about it some. People from both parties have called and chatted about it. But now I think the best use that society can put me to is to really do what I know how to do. I've got too much hair left for politics.
Q. Now that you're 30 and an estate owner, do you see a settled life for yourself, a family, big Silicon Valley parties, furniture?
A. Actually, I bought a few Eames chairs so I have a place to sit down and read a book, other than the floor. No, I gotta tell you, the thing I want to do more than anything now is get to work. I, we've got to go rent a building, we've got to decide on a name, we've got to file incorporation papers. It sounds like drudgery, but I long for it right now. So yeah, I'd like to have some kids one day. But...
Q. Have you seen Silicon Valley change, other than in its property values?
A. Sure it's changed. First of all, the valley has gotten to be a much larger place, it's contributing quite a bit now to the gross national product. And the entrepreneurship has gotten much more sophisticated. I mean if you want to start a company now, there are companies that help you start a company. What I hope they don't get stuck on is thinking that Apple is the yardstick of success. Silicon Valley still is a mecca that attracts amazing amounts of technical talent and I'm real excited about the next 10 years. Software is what will distinguish products in the next 10 years. And I think the technology for software is just starting to come into its own.
Q. Are some of the nice things about the valley gone for good?
A. Hewlett and Packard, the first generation, handed over leadership to the second; they made a smooth transition. But it's not Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard there. Intel is partially owned by IBM. Rolm has been merged into IBM. So you have people that have a very different culture now who help to run some of the companies in the valley. I think it is fair to say that the people running Apple are not from the valley at this point in time. I think that some of that is inevitable. I honestly don't know what it is going to mean. If the culture of the valley and some of the principles and practices of the valley are truncated, then I think it is pretty likely that the innovation will stop.
My hope is that there are a lot more Hewletts and Packards in this valley right now writing business plans to start companies. I was very influenced by Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard. I used to go there to Hewlett-Packard every Tuesday night when I was a freshman and sophomore in high school. They would invite about 20 of us in, students that were really interested in electronics, and they would have an expert there give a lecture on something they just invented. I think it is fair to say there wouldn't have been an Apple if there hadn't been a Hewlett-Packard.
Q. Might Apple executives be worried that in a year from now your departure will be an embarrassment? You may have built an incredible new work station and it's going to be so terrific and so cheap that the shareholders will say, "What, you let him do that?" Could that be in the back of their minds?
A. I wasn't aware that Apple owned me, you know. I don't think they do. I think that I own me. And for me not to be able to practice my craft ever again in my life seems odd. We're not going to take any technology, any proprietary ideas out of Apple. We're willing to put that in writing. It is the law, anyway. There is nothing, by the way, that says Apple can't compete with us if they think what we're doing is such a great idea. It is hard to think that a $2 billion company with 4,300-plus people couldn't compete with six people in blue jeans.