It was 1992 or so. Jobs had been out of Apple for years. Apple was a struggling vendor with a couple of niche products. Jobs was now CEO of NeXT, which made a $10,000 workstation that looked a lot like the Mac would ten years later. But at that time it was an expensive white elephant. The NeXTstation ran an operating system based on software called Unix, and I was a senior editor at a publication called Unix Today.
I was scheduled to do a phone interview with Jobs about something NeXT-related. It was going pretty well. He then mentioned something about NeXT earnings, which was a slip on his part. He said, “That was off the record.” I said, automatically, “I’m sorry, but going off the record is an agreement, and I won’t agree to that.”
He said, “Then this interview is over.” And he hung up on me.
See? I told you this story is a lot less interesting than you’d think.
I was shaken up by the event, and I think the PR person on the call was too. We talked about it a while, and she said, “Don’t worry about it. Steve can be like that.”
And Steve and I never talked again. And I started following Apple closely 15 years later, and had trouble getting access to them. But I don’t think that had anything to do with my earlier encounter with Jobs. Apple is like that. Maybe that will change under new management, but I don’t expect it to.
I may have interviewed or met with Jobs at other times earlier in my career. I don’t recall. I started covering technology a couple of years after Jobs had already been kicked out of Apple. Jobs wasn’t STEVE JOBS!! back then. He was an impressive figure, but he was also kind of a has-been, a one-hit wonder. He was an important person, but I’ve interviewed a lot of important people, and very few of them intimidate me. The ones who intimidate me tend to be personal heroes, and often less famous and admired generally than some celebrities I’ve interviewed.
Later on, of course, Jobs became one of the greatest businessmen to have ever walked the Earth, and one of my personal heroes. But that was later. And one of the things that made him one of my personal heroes is that he came back from being a has-been. It gives hope to the rest of us underachievers.
I handled that interview badly. Later, when in the same situation, I just keep my mouth shut until I decide whether I even want to use the information. Because I never did use that earnings information; it wasn’t something our readers at the time were interested in.