Brent Schlender, a writer who reported on Jobs for Fortune and The Wall Street Journal for 25 years, published details of his many interviews with Jobs in Fast Company Magazine, explaining why he believes Apple’s success can be traced back to Jobs’ hiatus from Apple, from 1985-1996.
Schlender, who doesn’t think ‘the wilderness years’, the phrase used for Jobs’ hiatus, is a fitting description, says that he thinks the period spent away from Apple was: “The most pivotal of [Jobs’] life. And perhaps the 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.”
“Rummaging through the storage shed, I discovered some three dozen tapes holding recordings of extended interviews – some lasting as long as three hours – that I’d conducted with him periodically over the past 25 years,” Schlender explains. “Some were interrupted by his kids bolting into the kitchen as we talked. During others, he would hit the pause button himself before saying something he feared might come back to bite him.”
During those interviews, Jobs spoke about many different aspects of his life, including Apple, Pixar and his personal life.
“Over all the years Jobs was away from Apple, I can’t recall him saying one good thing about the company’s brass. Early on, he whined about how CEO John Sculley has “poisoned” the culture of the place,” reveals Schlender.
He claims that Jobs once said: “Right now it’s like the wicked witch in The Wizard of Oz: I’m melting. I’m melting,” when talking about the struggles Apple was experiencing in the 90’s before Jobs returned to the company. “The jog 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,” said Jobs.
Schlender, who had spent lots of time with Jobs and was “iChat buddies” with Apple’s co-founder for several years, said: “Jobs had never seemed like the marrying type and hadn’t shown much of a sense of responsibility for Lisa, his first daughter, who was born out of wedlock in 1978…Egotistical, narcissistic and manipulative since childhood, Jobs often behaved like a spoiled brat who was accustomed to getting his way.”
But, after meeting his wife, Laurene Powell, in 1989, “his selfish ways did begin to moderate, especially after his children, Reed, Erin and Eve, came into the family in 1991, 1995 and 1998, respectively. As is often the case with new parents, Jobs behaved as if he were the first person in the world to discover and fully appreciate the joys of family life,” Schlender explains.
“In hindsight, Jobs’s having a real family might have been the best thing to happen to Pixar. He was most effective as a marketer and a business leader when he could think of himself as the primary customer. What would he want from a computer-animated movie, both for himself and for his kids? That was the only market-research question he ever asked,” Shlender reveals.
Shlender says that Jobs once told him: “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…But we always do; we realise 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?’”
A video of Jobs talking about Apple at a presentation in the 1980s has also been recently rediscovered. Watch it here.