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Lost Interview Tapes Shed Light On Steve Jobs’s Time Away From Apple

It turns out Jobs's so-called "Wilderness Years" were some of the most important of his life.

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Lost Interview Tapes Shed Light On Steve Jobs’s Time Away From Apple
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In 1985 Steve Jobs left Apple, just six years after Apple was created, Steve Jobs was kicked out. He would spend the next eleven years away from the company he helped found, working on a variety of projects – most notably NeXT, a computer company meant to rival Apple, and Pixar. Given Jobs’s triumphant return to Apple in 1996 and the staggering new heights to which he led the company before his death last year, the bulk of the attention on Jobs’s work is paid to his time at Apple.

During that period, though, Fortune and The Wall Street Journal reporter Brent Schlender began writing about Jobs. In the course of his work, he conducted several interviews with Jobs, many of them quite lengthy. Recently Schlender rediscovered the tapes from those interviews, and it turns out that they provide a wealth of insight into what Jobs was like during his so-called “Wilderness Years,” a period Schlender describes as “the most pivotal of his life.” During this period, Schlender says, Jobs was at his happiest:

He finally settled down, married, and had a family. He learned the value of patience and the ability to feign it when he lost it. Most important, his work with the two companies he led during that time, NeXT and Pixar, turned him into the kind of man, and leader, who would spur Apple to unimaginable heights upon his return.

Though Schlender has not yet published transcripts of any of the interviews, he quotes them liberally in a piece for Fast Company, published yesterday. Here are some of the best:

On Apple’s leadership in the mid-1990s, before his return in 1996:

The jig is up. They can’t seem to come out with a great computer to save their lives. They need to spend big on industrial design, reintroduce the hipness factor. But no, they hire [Gil] Amelio [as CEO]. It’s as if Nike hired the guy that ran Kinney shoes.”

On his “Open Corporation” business model:

If you look at your own body, your cells are specialized, but every single one of them has the master plan for the whole body. We think our company will be the best possible company if every single person working here understands the whole master plan and can use that as a yardstick to make decisions against. We think a lot of little and medium and big decisions will be made better if all our people know that.

On fostering the relationship between Disney and Pixar, a deal with Jobs himself engineered at a time when Pixar was meant to be a commercial company that might someday make movies:

There was a certain amount of fear and trepidation, but what always happened was that making a great movie was the focal point of everybody’s concerns. One way to drive fear out of a relationship is to realize that your partner’s values are the same as yours, that what you care about is exactly what they care about. In my opinion, that drives fear out and makes for a great partnership, whether it’s a corporate partnership or a marriage.

On creating new products:

“We’ve done so many hardware products where Jony and I have looked at each other and said, ‘We don’t know how to make it any better than this, we just don’t know how to make it,’ ” Jobs told me. “But we always do; we realize another way. And then it’s not long after the new thing comes out that we look at the older thing and go, ‘How can we ever have done that?’

On the long-term impact of stories versus products:

“The technology we’ve been laboring on over the past 20 years becomes part of the sedimentary layer,” he told me once. “But when Snow White was re-released [on DVD, in 2001], we were one of the 28 million families that went out and bought a copy of it. This was a film that is 60 years old, and my son was watching it and loving it. I don’t think anybody’s going to be beating on a Macintosh 60 years from now.”

The piece will be published in the May 2012 issue of Fast Company. You can also read it on Fast Company’s website.

Lost Interview Tapes Shed Light On Steve Jobs’s Time Away From Apple
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