How I Helped Convince Steve Jobs To Return To Apple

April 01, 2013

It was just a month before I was scheduled to finish my contract at Apple in mid 1996. I had spent a year in the Bay area and had taken a 5 month contract at Apple just to see what it was like to work there.

Boy was it depressing.

While I was there Apple fired Spindler and hired Gil Amelio, and at first we were relieved that maybe things would get better. He seemed to want to connect to the employees and at least for a little while it worked. It didn't take long though for things to get so bad that he retreated to the executive offices, and we never saw him anymore. All we heard was negative press; no one had anything to say good about us. When they took away the popcorn supplies for our popcorn machine, we knew the end might be near.

I had just been to a big meeting with the Copland team leadership in the auditorium, representing the group I worked at, and it was a bloody disaster. The team leading the project might have been hit with rotten tomatoes if there were any at hand. The Quicktime team was the most vocal since the OS specs appeared to not allow it to work at all. This seemed like the dumbest OS development ever and added more fuel to the depression fire.

It was cool to work there but since I expected Apple would likely not survive I was glad to be nearing the end of my contract.

As usual in the evening I would go for a long walk from my apartment. It was a good way to clear my brain from all the negativeness during the day.

One evening I was walking a new route and met another walker and after exchanging pleasantries we decided to walk together. He asked me what I did and I told him I worked at Apple. Then he wanted to know what I thought of it.

I told him it was really depressing, and despite my long history with Apple products I thought it might be the last gasp. He was quiet for a bit and then asked me to elaborate.

"They hired a new guy but he doesn't appear to have any concrete ideas either. Everything we do seems stupid, we just lost a ton of money, and there isn't much hope in the employees, especially the one's who've been around for a long time."

We're talking and I didn't recognize him at first, since I'd had never met him before and had only heard him in couple keynotes - of course it was Steve Jobs. He finally said who he was which made we wish I hadn't been so negative.

"I tried to talk with Gil last year but he blew me off" he said. "I don't think they would ever want me to help at all".

I demurred at that, and told him that Apple needed someone with real passion who could be a real general and get things done. But he didn't seem to agree.

I told him "Apple used to be cool, it had products that were sexy and people talked about them even if they didn't want to buy anything".

At that he looked more interested, "Sexy, I like that. People understand sexy."

So I continued "when you were there Apple made sexy stuff that changed things. I don't see how the current leadership can do anything but kill Apple off."

"Even if I wanted to, there isn't any way I can do anything unless Apple asks and that seems unlikely."

Not sure what to suggest, I tried lamely anyway. "Maybe you can worm your way back. Copland is a disaster than will never work, maybe you could sell them on the NeXT OS."

"Maybe." He didn't sound convinced. "It might take a lot of selling to make it happen."

"Apple was your baby," I countered. "It needs you again, whatever it takes."

At that point I had to turn back to where I lived and we parted company. "Thanks," he said, "for giving me something to think about."

I never saw him again, but I remember it like it was yesterday. That was the same day as today, April Fools Day.