Back in the Summer of 1996, Steve Jobs was the CEO of Pixar and the idea that he’d someday return to the helm of Apple and save the company from the brink of bankruptcy wasn’t on anybody’s radar. During that time, Jobs – who was much more willing to chat it up in public back then – appeared on PBS’ Wall Street Week with Louis Rukeyser.
Rukeyser comes out of the gate strong and quickly asks Jobs about Apple, which at the time, was bleeding money. It might sound crazy now, but there was a time where the notion of Apple ceasing to exist as an ongoing entity was a valid and realistic concern.
Rukeyser asks, “You first came to public attention with Apple. In recent weeks it’s been one of the failure stories of Wall St. and indeed the American economy. What went wrong at Apple?”
Oh gosh. You know I haven’t been there in a long time. My perception may not be complete. But from the way I see it, Apple was a company that was based on innovation. When I left Apple ten years ago, we were ten years ahead of anybody else. It took Microsoft ten years to copy Windows.
The problem was that Apple stood still. Even though it invested cumulatively billions in R&D, the output has not been there and people have caught up with it, and its differentiation has eroded, in particular with respect to Microsoft.
And so the way out for Apple – and I think Apple still has a future; there are some awfully good people there and there is tremendous brand loyalty to that company. I think the way out is not to slash and burn, it’s to innovate. That’s how Apple got to its glory, and that’s how Apple could return to it.
And lo and behold, that’s exactly what happened once Steve Jobs sold NeXT to Apple. Jobs quickly killed superfluous Apple initiatives (so long Newton! so long clones!) and got working on the first piece of Apple’s comeback story – the iMac. Apple’s string of innovation would continue on for years with products like the iPod, subsequent iterations of the iMac, the iTunes Music Store, and more recently, the iPhone and the iPad.
Moving back to the video, Rukeyser next asks Jobs a question about the Internet and insinuates that Jobs would like to constrain Microsoft:
Well I think there’s a lot of people working on stuff for the Internet and NeXT is one of those companies as well. And for me the most exciting thing in the software area is the Internet, and part of the reason for that is that no one owns it. It’s a free for all. It’s much like the early days of the personal computer and the rate of innovation is very high and we know from experience that if any one company gets a dominant position in it, the rate of innovation in it is going to drop precipitously. And we’d like to not see that happen forever, or at least for not some time.
When asked about whether Jobs wants the market to limit Bill Gates and Microsoft as opposed to the Government, Jobs hesitates for a second- presumably from going off in a negative direction about Microsoft – and simply responds:
Yeahh, I don’t get into that so much. I admire MSFT for their achievements and I think though that the net that is something we will see innovation contained and I’m hoping that’s the case.
Indeed, the weight Jobs put on the Internet was evident in the first product released under his charge upon his return – the 1998 bondi blue iMac – where the ‘i’ of course stands for Internet.