Steve Jobs interview: One-on-one in 1995

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In April 1995, Steve Jobs, then head of NeXT Computer, was interviewed by the Computerworld Information Technology Awards Foundation, producers of the Computerworld Honors Awards Program, as part of an Oral History project. The wide-ranging interview was conducted by Daniel Morrow, executive director of the awards program.

From his early years -- when he says except for a few key adults 'I would absolutely have ended up in jail' -- to how he felt about Apple in the mid-'90s -- 'The Macintosh will die in another few years [under John Sculley]' -- to his predictions about how the Internet would change the world, this is a rare look at Jobs after his first string of innovations but before he returned to Apple.

Steve, I'd like to begin with some biographical information. Tell us about yourself. Steve Jobs (SJ): I was born in San Francisco, California, USA, planet Earth, February 24, 1955. I can go into a lot of details about my youth, but I don't know that anybody would really care about that too much.

Well they might in three hundred years because all this print is going to disintegrate. Tell me a little bit about your parents, your family; what are the earliest things you remember? In 1955, Eisenhower was still President. I don't remember him but I do remember growing up in the late 50's and early 60's. It was a very interesting time in the United States. America was sort of at its pinnacle of post World War II prosperity and everything had been fairly straight and narrow from haircuts to culture in every way, and it was just starting to broaden into the 60's where things were going to start expanding out in new directions. Everything was still very successful. Very young. America seemed young and naive in many ways to me, from my memories at that time.

So you would have been about five or six years old when John Kennedy was assassinated? I remember John Kennedy being assassinated. I remember the exact moment that I heard he had been shot.

Where were you at the time? I was walking across the grass at my schoolyard going home at about three in the afternoon when somebody yelled that the President had been shot and killed. I must have been about seven or eight years old, I guess, and I knew exactly what it meant. I also remember very much the Cuban Missile Crisis. I probably didn't sleep for three or four nights because I was afraid that if I went to sleep I wouldn't wake up. I guess I was seven years old at the time and I understood exactly what was going on. I think everybody did. It was really a terror that I will never forget, and it probably never really left. I think that everyone felt it at that time.

Apple's growth

Apple had a reputation as a company that absolutely broke the mold and set its own course. Looking back from where you are today with NeXT, do you think that, as Apple grew larger, it could have sustained that original approach? Or was it destined to become a big standard American company? That's a funny question. Apple did grow big and sustain that approach.

When I left Apple it was a two billion dollar company. We were Fortune 300 and something. We were 350. When the Mac was introduced we were a billion-dollar corporation; so Apple grew from nothing to two billion dollars while I was there. That's a pretty high growth rate. It grew five times since I left basically on the back of the Macintosh.

I think what's happened since I left in terms of growth rate has been trivial compared with what it was like when I was there. What ruined Apple wasn't growth. What ruined Apple was values. John Sculley ruined Apple and he ruined it by bringing a set of values to the top of Apple which were corrupt and corrupted some of the top people who were there, drove out some of the ones who were not corruptible, and brought in more corrupt ones and paid themselves collectively tens of millions of dollars and cared more about their own glory and wealth than they did about what built Apple in the first place -- which was making great computers for people to use.

They didn't care about that anymore. They didn't have a clue about how to do it and they didn't take any time to find out because that's not what they cared about. They cared about making a lot of money. So they had this wonderful thing that a lot of brilliant people made called the Macintosh and they got very greedy. And instead of following the original trajectory of the original vision -- which was to make this thing an appliance, to get this out there to as many people as possible -- they went for profits and they made outlandish profits for about four years. Apple was one of the most profitable companies in America for about four years.

What that cost them was the future. What they should have been doing was making reasonable profits and going for market share, which was what we always tried to do.

Macintosh would have had a 33% market share right now, maybe even higher, maybe it would have even been Microsoft, but we'll never know. Now it's got a single-digit market share and falling. There's no way to ever get that moment in time back. The Macintosh will die in another few years and it's really sad.

The problem is this: No one at Apple has a clue as to how to create the next Macintosh because no one running any part of Apple was there when the Macintosh was made -- or any other product at Apple. They've just been living off that one thing now for over a decade and the last attempt was the Newton and you know what happened to that.

It's kind of tragic, but as unemotionally as I can be, that's what's happening. Unless somebody pulls a rabbit out of a hat, companies tend to have long glide slopes because of the installed bases. But Apple is just gliding down this slope and they're losing market share every year. Things start to spiral down once you get under a certain threshold. And when developers no longer write applications for your computer, that's when it really starts to fall apart.

There's obviously a lot of emotional attachment to Apple. Oh sure. Apple could have lived forever and kept shipping great products forever. Apple was for awhile like Sony. It was the place that made the coolest stuff.

Apple customers

Is there a user of Apple or a story that you could tell that in your mind exemplifies what the company stood for and its values at its best? What customers were using the Apple when you were there? There were two kinds of customers. There were the educational aspects of Apple and then there were sort of the non-educational.

On the non-educational side, Apple was two things. One, it was the first "lifestyle" computer and, secondly, it's hard to remember how bad it was in the early 1980's. With IBM taking over the world with the PC, with DOS out there; it was far worse than the Apple II. They tried to copy the Apple II and they had done a pretty bad job.

You needed to know a lot. Things were kind of slipping backwards. You saw the 1984 commercial. Macintosh was basically this relatively small company in Cupertino, California, taking on the goliath, IBM, and saying "Wait a minute, your way is wrong. This is not the way we want computers to go. This is not the legacy we want to leave. This is not what we want our kids to be learning. This is wrong and we are going to show you the right way to do it and here it is. It's called Macintosh and it is so much better. It's going to beat you and you're going to do it."

And that's what Apple stood for. That was one of the things. Next: Trying to donate computers to every school in America

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