Bill Gates on Steve Jobs circa 1998: “He knows he can’t win”

Tue, Apr 13, 2010

Featured, News

Back in 1998, Bill Gates was comfortably ruling Microsoft’s empire while Apple was bleeding cash and meekly attempting to stay in business. Now, 12 years later, Bill Gates is retired and Steve Jobs has masterfully transformed Apple into one of the most innovative, successful, and profitable tech companies in the world. While some of the Apple faithful undoubtedly believed that Jobs had the ability to turn around the company he co-founded, no one could have predicted just how extraordinary Apple’s overhaul would be.

Naturally, Bill Gates was one of the many who were skeptical of Apple’s prospects at the time. Tech writer Robert Cringley recently re-discovered a missing audiotape containing a 60-minute interview he conducted with Gates. The topic of discussion? Steve Jobs, mostly.

When asked about Jobs’ return to Apple, Gates quipped, “What I can’t figure out is why he (Steve Jobs) is even trying (to be the CEO of Apple)? He knows he can’t win.”

Cringley writes:

It’s pretty easy to argue that Jobs did win. Certainly Apple has the mojo lately with its string of home run products like the iMac, iPod, iPhone, and now the iPad. Even Mac market share is up in the double digits and Apple’s profit margins are the best in the industry. The trend line is definitely up for Apple and mildly down for Microsoft.

What Bill Gates didn’t count on when he declared Jobs a loser back in 1998, was the Californian’s tenacity. It took 12 years to do it, but Apple is well positioned now to take Microsoft’s crown.

Unfortunately, the full contents of the tantalizing tape will never be published in their entirety. You see, one of Gates’ stipulations in agreeing to the interview in the first place was that the content could only be used for a Vanity Fair article Cringley was planning to write on the relationship between Gates and Steve Jobs. Jobs, however, didn’t come through for the story like he had promised, and the article ultimately never materialized.


, ,

4 Comments For This Post

  1. Aaron Says:

    “Apple is well positioned now to take Microsoft’s crown.”

    They’re positioned to become the industry standard and leading operating system for nearly all businesses worldwide? ok then

  2. Bob Erran Says:

    Wrong crown, Aaron. Look at Market Capitalization: 12 years ago, Apple was ready to declare bankruptcy. Today, Apple is worth almost $220B, only about $50B less then MS, and is the 3rd most valuable company on the US stock exchange (behind MS and Exxon). Don’t get me wrong, if something happened to Steve Jobs, that stock price would probably tumble.

  3. skips Says:

    It is often said that a corporation’s behavior starts at the top. I find that this statement by Gates to be somewhat enlightening. He apparently sees business as a game at which you are supposed to win or lose. There appears to be no consideration in his view for the possibility that a business might exist to fulfill the needs of its customers. This view dovetails quite nicely with the earlier report that Microsoft is a series of fiefdoms with every manager fighting over control and power.

    On the other hand, Apple seems to be moving in the direction of making things that they believe people need or at least can use, and trying to make them better than anyone else. Maybe this obsession with making things that people can use is part of their attempting to exclude those who attempt to make their products second class citizens.

  4. Sven Says:

    I remember that time and how bleak it looked. I also remember MS and their lemmings all flocking to “kill off” any remnants of Apple, especially at a large cable company I worked at. I was an evangelist then (and still am) and would post things in the elevator ripping on Win95/98, etc. :–) But the best move I did was walk into a Schwab office and buy a bunch of Apple stock for $3. I remember the sneer the kid behind the desk gave me when I did, but then it changed to quizzical look when I returned a few weeks later and bought more at $6. I wonder what kind of look he has these days when he looks at the stock price. ;–)

eXTReMe Tracker