Interviews

Name: Steve Jobs at 44 (Michael Krantz)

Published in: Time Magazine

Date: Oct 18, 1999

Source URL: http://www.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,32207,00.html

Differences and Similarities Between Apple and Pixar

Apple turns out many products--a dozen a year; if you count all the minor ones, probably a hundred. Pixar is striving to turn out one a year. But the converse of that is that Pixar's products will still be used fifty years from now, whereas I don't think you'll be using any product Apple brings to market this year fifty years from now. Pixar is making art for the ages. Kids will be watching Toy Story in the future. And Apple is much more of a constant race to continually improve things and stay ahead of the competition.

His Role At Pixar

At Pixar my job is to help build the studio and recruit people and help create a situation where they can do the best work of their lives. And to some degree it's the same at Apple. But at Pixar, I don't direct the movies, whereas at Apple probably, if I had to pick a role out of a film production, I'd be the director. So it's a different job for me too, and I'm very conscious of that. My job at Pixar is to help manage the studio processes. But I don't say, "Well, I think we should have that character do that." I do give notes, just like other people do. There was one situation, for the first time, about three months ago, where I gave the best note. Which is really good, actually, because there were some very smart people there. But that will hardly ever happen.

Getting Sarah Mcarthur to Pixar

Ed [Catmull] is a genius for technology and John [Lasseter] is a genius for creative. Sarah McArthur runs all of production. We never had great production. I would always call Peter Schneider, who was then running Disney's feature animation unit, and say, "Can't you spare one of your second-tier producers to come and run production here, because we really need somebody." And they could never spare anybody. It's hard because there are so few people with experience in this area. But one day he called me up and said, "I can't believe I'm making this call, but I have the ultimate production leader for you." I said, "Really. Who's that?" He said, "Sarah McArthur, she's our VP of production for feature animation. She is the most senior production executive at the Walt Disney Company for animation." I said, "It's not April 1st, Peter." He said, "Well, she's going to leave us. She's going to move to Northern California for personal reasons, she has to, and I'd rather lose her to you than to anyone else." She is incredible. She was executive producer of "The Lion King." She's the best in the business. These movies are $100 million projects. We have a few going on at any given time. Most of the people at the studio actually work, in terms of chain of command, for Sarah. In terms of day-to-day trains running on time, it"s Sarah McArthur.

Apple's Product Lines

There were 15 product lines when I got here. It was incredible. You couldn"t figure out what to buy. I started asking around, and nobody could explain it to me. This year we updated the PowerBook, in May, the iBook in July, the G4, replacing the G3, in August at Seybold, and now the iMacs in October. I added up the time: in 148 days, we've completely changed every product. [He laughs.] We've been working too hard.

Apple's Vertical Integration

Apple is really a serious player in this stuff now. When we first got here two years ago, Apple was being bombarded by criticism that it was the last vertically integrated PC company, and management should break it up. Our competitors — the Gateways, Dells and Compaqs — they're really distribution companies. They take technology from Microsoft and Intel, package it up in the Far East and ship it out. And what determines whether they're successful or not is their distribution model and their logistical efficiency. They don't engineer anything. The innovation in that business has really slowed down dramatically, or even come to a halt. You get incremental innovation: the disk drive gets bigger for the same price. But what's really changed? Nothing. Nothing in scope — what's it going to do for you? Apple's the only company left in this industry that designs the whole widget. Hardware, software, developer relations, marketing. It turns out that that, in my opinion, is Apple's greatest strategic advantage. We didn't have a plan, so it looked like this was a tremendous deficit. But with a plan, it's Apple's core strategic advantage, if you believe that there's still room for innovation in this industry, which I do, because Apple can innovate faster than anyone else.

I'll give you an example: when we shipped the iMac, we decided to go to this new I/O scheme called USB. Right after we shipped it I got a call from a very senior executive at Intel. He said, "You know who invented USB, don't you?" I said, "No, who?" He said, "Intel. Five years ago. And we've been trying to get the PC industry to use it for five years, and in literally 30 days you have jumped so far ahead of us it's unbelievable. It was like trying to herd cats."

Whereas we say, "Okay, we're going to build it in the hardware, build it in the software, evangelize the developers." We can pick half a dozen things like that a year and go make that innovation.

Believe me, the product pipeline for the next 18 months looks unbelievably strong. Our mission is just to build the best personal computers in the world.

Why He Isn't the Only Important Person

Both Pixar and Apple are team sports, even more so in my funny situation. I rely on a very great management team at Pixar because I'm not there all the time. I'm here [at Apple] a little more than I am there [at Pixar] these days. And without those folks, nothing of value would happen. I guess what I'm trying to say is, there's different things in life you can do. You can become a painter, you can become a sculptor. You can make something by yourself. But that's not what I do. I do the other thing, which is, you work at things that one person can't do, and that you need large numbers of people to do. I know people like symbols, but it's always unsettling when people write stories about me, because they tend to overlook a lot of other people.

The Promise of the Broadband Web

I think there's a lot of possibility there, but there are a lot of problems between here and there. The Internet offers no guaranteed delivery. There's no gauranteed latency. You get a lot of traffic on that backbone, you have all sorts of problems. When you try to start moving huge amounts of information around with big high-fidelity images, there's just a lot of problems there. But they will get solved.

The Apple Cafeteria

This is the nicest corporate cafe I've ever seen. When we got here this was dog food. There was this company called Guggeinheim that it was farmed out to and it was just shit. And finally we fired them and got this friend of mine who runs Il Fourniao restaurant to come and he did everything and now it's great. So... [ starts pointing ] ...there's a burrito bar, a salad bar, there's some pasta over there, there's a wood-burning pizza oven right there...there's sometimes sushi, and there's another salad bar over there...

Palo Alto Development

I live in Palo Alto, I moved there about ten years ago when I got married and we had a child, because I wanted to be in more of a community and have neighbors. The problem is that it's a nice community, and a lot of people want to live there, and they're not making any more Palo Alto. San Mateo's great, Burlingame's great, San Carlos is great, all those towns are really good right now. But they're getting discovered.

The Word 'Broadband'

My personal belief is that you shouldn't use a word like broadband. It's this myterious thing. It's just fast networking, and I think people can understand that; high-speed networking vs. slower speed networking. I think this term broadband throws a lot of people off; they think it's something new and mysterious when all it is is their modem running 100 times faster.

Whether, When Pondering Future Products, He Thinks About the Year 1999 or the Year 2010

Um, neither. [ Long pause. ] I look for vectors going in time. What's changing, what are the trends? What windows have just opened and what windows are closing? Like, a trivial example, the USB was a window that was opening. It was a trend that Apple had started with ease of use of plug-and-play, and USB let us take it further, simplify two or three ports down to one. The trend was toward serial high-speed I/O. You used to have parallel I/O with these big fat cables and big fat connectors. But now with the technology we have, you could serialize the bits on that, pump bits much faster but only need one or two wires to do it. And the cables are smaller, and the connectors are smaller and it's more consumer-oriented. Put some software around it and make it self-addressing, so it's just plug-and-play.

You try to spot those things and how they're going to be changing over time and which horses you want to ride and at any point in time, balancing all those things to make a product. The product is like the physical incarnation of all these things you've got to keep in your mind and understand where you're going to place your bets. You can't be too far ahead, but you have to be far enough ahead, because it takes time to implement. So you have to intercept a moving train. And you also have to pick horses to ride for five to ten year periods because you don't want to be changing things. If I give you 20 bricks, you could lay them all on the ground and you'd have 20 bricks on the ground. Or you can lay them on top of each other and start building a wall. We don't want to go back and start relaying the bricks we laid last year. So we want to choose wisely the standards we're going to ride, the directions we're going to go, so that each project builds upon the last one and we can invest our engineering efforts into new things, rather than redoing things we just did a year or two ago. You have to invest in thinking through the architecture of things. Otherwise when you get up to the 10th floor, the building starts to collapse.

Reinventing Apple

One of the things that happened when we got back to Apple was, we said, Apple's all confused. Apple's forgotten what it is. Who is Apple? Why is Apple here? Remember, the roots of Apple were to build computers for people, not for corporations. At the time we started Apple, IBM built computers for corporations. Now it's Microsoft and Intel. But there was nobody building a computer for people. Funny enough, 20 years after we started Apple, there was nobody building computers for people again. You know? They were trying to sell consumers last year's corporate computers. We said, "Well, these are our roots. This is why we're here. The world doesn't need another Dell or Compaq. They need an Apple." We said, "Our thrust is not going to be to make computers for CEOs and enterprise companies." We have a lot of customers in the enterprise. But we don't ever go talk to the CEO of Time Warner. We talk to the people who put out the magazines.

The Main Attribute That Apple and Pixar Share

I remember the first time I saw a piece of paper come out of the laser printer prototype we had. It was running this very sophisticated printer from Canon, this very sophisticated controller we had designed and Postscript software from Adobe. An amazing amount of technology. The piece of paper came out and I looked at it and it was so beautiful, I thought, "We can sell this. Because we don't need to tell anybody anything about what's in this box. All we have to do is hold this piece of paper up and go, Do you want this? If you do, buy this box." That's our whole marketing strategy.

Well, that's how I've always looked at this stuff. What Apple stands for is this: Technology has exploded. It's getting more complicated by the day. And there are very few ways for us mere mortals to approach all this technology. People don't have a week to research things and figure out how they work. Apple has always been, and I hope it will always be, one of the premiere bridges between mere mortals and this very difficult technology. We may have the fastest PCs, which we do, we may have the most sophisticated machines, which we do. But the most important thing is that Apple is the bridge.

When I first met Ed Catmull, he told me about all the awesome technology that they at the time were using to create digital imagery. Today we have the biggest computer farm I know of. We're using over 1500 of Sun's fastest processors to make each picture. And the software we've invented, which is all proprietary, is a monumental acheivement. The technologoy that goes into making a Pixar movie is staggering. And yet we sell a consumer product for $7. You pay your $7 and sit down in a movie theater and you don't need to know one iota about the technology that went into making that production order to enjoy that product.

Apple and Pixar are the same in that regard--they both deliver a product that has immense technology unerpinnings and yet they both strive to say you don't need to know anything about this techology in order to use it. In the case of Apple, we're going to make it easy as possible to use this.

The Question of Art. Vs. Technology

I've never believed that they're separate. Leonardo da Vinci was a great artist and a great scientist. Michelangelo knew a tremendous amount about how to cut stone at the quarry. The finest dozen computer scientists I know are all musicians. Some are better than others, but they all consider that an important part of their life. I don't believe that the best people in any of these fields see themselves as one branch of a forked tree. I just don't see that. People bring these things together a lot. Dr. Land at Polaroid said, "I want Polaroid to stand at the intersection of art and science," and I've never forgotten that. I think that that's possible, and I think a lot of people have tried.

You said "corporate" and "technical" as if they go together. Technology has nothing to do with the corporate world. I don't see technology and the corporate world as being necessarily intertwined, any more than art and the corporate world are intertwined. Yes, I knew a lot of people when I was in my formative years who were very clear that they didn't want to grow up and work for some faceless corporation. They wanted to do something different with their lives, and a lot of them did. But that has nothing to do with science and technology and art. A lot of scientists have never worked in a corporation. And a lot of them started their own.

The Apple II

The Apple II had a few qualities about it. Number one, it was the first computer ever with a plastic case on it. You could mold it and shape it to be a more cultural shape rather than just a rectangular box. And secondly, it was the first personal computer with color graphics on it. Third, in everything it did, it was the first PC that came fully assembled. Every other computer came in a kit. We figured for every hardware hobbyist out there, there was at least a thousand software hobbyists. People who'd want to play with the software but couldn't build one. Even back then, that was how we were thinking.

This Exciting Moment in History

It's a wonderful time right now. What we can put in a computer for $1000 is just mindblowing. We can use it to do wonderful things like video. It's pretty exciting right now. Apple is a large company, in a good sense. One of the reasons I came here was, when I was using NeXTStep, it was entropying. I didn't want to use the present state of Mac or Windows for the rest of my life. But another one was Apple had just lost a billion dollars. But what people forget is — someone once said that profit is the very small difference between two very large nubmers: revenue and cost. Well, if Apple sold $7 billion worth of stuff, and it lost a billion, that means it spent $8 billion. That's a huge amount of money! It meant that this was a company that could spend $5, $6, $7 billion dollars a year and still make a profit! Which NeXT could not. If you could eliminate waste and work to come up with a focused strategy, you have enormous resources to do good work. It's a wonderful, wonderful opportunity.

Whether He Has Changed As He Got Older

Sure, I mean people change. I get older. I'm a lot older. I'm 15 years older then when I left Apple. I left when I was 30. I'll be 45 in February. So, sure people change. When does your life really start as an adult? Lets say it starts when you're 15, you become totally conscious as an adult. So, I'm twice as old as an adult as when I was 30.

You know, I'm not sure it's always a good idea to chronicle one's point of view about oneself. I can tell you this: I've been married for 8 years, and that's had a really good influence on me. I've been very lucky, through random happenstance I just happened to sit next to this wonderful woman who became my wife. And it was a big deal. We have 3 kids, and it's been a big deal. You see the world differently. [When he came back to Apple] We had to lay some people off. A lot of people. I've done it before and it's always hard. But before, I didn't really think too much about it. But when I got here, every one that I had to do personally, I thought, "A lot of these fathers and mothers are going to have to go home and tell their families they just lost their jobs." And I'd never really thought about that before. You succeed at some things, you fail at some things. You start to understand what's important.

How Being a Family Man Changes Your Work Priorities

I've read something that Bill Gates said about six months ago. He said, "I worked really, really hard in my 20s." And I know what he means, because I worked really, really hard in my 20s too. Literally, you know, 7 days a week, a lot of hours every day. And it actually is a wonderful thing to do, because you can get a lot done. But you can't do it forever, and you don't want to do it forever, and you have to come up with ways of figuring out what the most important things are and working with other people even more. Just working smarter to get things done. Because you can't work 15 hour days, 7 days a week.

What His Typical Workday Is Like

I'm a good morning person. I like it early in the morning. I wake up six-ish. About 10 years ago I put in a T1 to my house. I'm actually getting ready to put a 45 mg fiber to my house, because I want to find out what that will be like, because everybody's going to have that someday. But I have a pretty sophisticated setup; whether I'm at Apple or at Pixar or at my home, I log in and my whole world shows up on any of those computers. It's all kept on a server. So I carry none of it with me, but wherever I am, my complete world shows up, all my files. Everything. And I have high speed access to all of it. So my office is at home too. And when I'm not in meetings, my work is fundamentally on email. So I'll work a little before the kids get up. And then we'll all have a little food and finish up some homework and see them off to school. If I'm lucky I'll stay at home and work for an hour because I can get a lot done, but oftentimes I'll have to come in. I usually get here about 9. 8 or 9. Having worked about an hour or half or two at home.

How He'd Describe His Job

My job is thinking and working with people and meeting and email. Both Apple and Pixar, they don't produce giant factories with robots in them. Their product is pure intellectual property. Bits on a disk. Pixar--what do we make? In the end we produce bits on a disk that get written onto film. At Apple we produce bits on a disk that get cut into steel for plastics tooling and get cut into silicon for custom integrated circuits and get put on a hard disk for software. So both Apple and Pixar are pure intellectual property companies. And so it's about ideas. And it's about processes to turn those ideas into tangible products.

My job is to interact with other people and hopefully have something to contribute in that realm of ideas. Because that's what makes Apple and Pixar go around. They're not hierarchical organizations where you say, "You work for me, so do this." That's long gone. If a really good person works for you and you tell them what to do all the time, they're just going to say, "I'm going to go work for somebody else who lets me tell them what we're going to do." What I tell people around here is that the reason we pay you all this money is that you're supposed to tell us what to do. I took away almost all the bonus programs here. None of the senior team is on it. It's all stock. We gave everybody a lot of stock. It's very entrepreneurial in two or three regards.

Number one, everybody is compensated like a startup. Number two, we have a very simple, clear organization. It's very easy to know who has authority for what, who has responsiblity for what. There's no politics about it, they're virtually politics-free organizations. There's no turf wars. Avi runs software. John runs hardware. Mitch runs Sales. It's really simple. Number 3, we have a very simple mission. It's very easy to communicate what we're trying to do.

I have a blast because I get to work with these super-talented people. Take Jony Ive. The last few weeks we've been working on this new product we're going to have a year from now. Just working out the concept for how it's gonna be. How we're going to engineer it, present it, what it's going to look like. We've had some incredible breakthroughs in a series of four or five hour-long conversations. Incredible breakthroughs. Our design group is light-years ahead of their peers.

Managing All These People

There are approximately 10,000 people at Apple. And so it's a complex organization that requires a lot of coordination and information flowing back and forth. One of the challenges in both and Pixar and Apple is managing complexity. In Pixar, we started off doing short films, and our first short film, Luxo Jr., took three hours on the fastest computer we could get our hands on to render one frame of the movie. 13 years later, as we finish Toy Story 2, we're using computers that are a thousand or more times faster. And how long does it take to render one frame of film? Three hours. Because complexity has gone up a thousandfold.

So part of our job at Pixar is to manage complexity. Take a frame from A Bug's Life, where all the grass is moving around. Well, if an animator had to move every blade of grass through the wind, they'd never get to the main characters. So in order to have those blades of grass blow in the wind, we had to come up with smart grass. Grass that knows how to blow by itself in the wind. So all the animator has to do is say, "The wind is coming from this direction, this is the burst pattern, and the grasses will just do their own thing." Our next film, Monsters Inc., we're going to be throwing five times the computing power at it. And we're going to get it done with the same number of people.

And the same concept is true of organizations. You've got to figure out a way to manage the complexity of large projects yet still allow your core teams to focus on the essentials. And the way you do that is, you build up capabilities within your organization to do things on a high quality level on a routine basis with good leaders leading small and medium-sized teams and coordinating with their peers in other groups so you can collectively do things that are very impressive. Now, I don't get a chance to interact with 10,000 people. The number of people I get to interact with in this company is probably about 50 on a regular basis. Maybe 100. And one of the things that I've always felt is that most things in life, if you get something twice as good as average you're doing phenomenally well. Usually the best is about 30% better than average. Two to one's a big delta. But hat became really clear to me in my work life was that, for instance, [Steve] Woz[niak] was 25 to 50 times better than average. And I found that there were these incredibly great people at doing certain things, and you couldn't replace one of these people with 50 average people. They could just do stuff that no number of average people could do. So what I learned early on was that if you could assemble a team of these very high-performance people, extremely talented people, a few things happen: number one, unlike what you'd think, they actually all got along with each other. This whole prima donna thing turned out to be a myth with the very best people. Secondly, small and medium-sized teams of these people could accomplish extraordinary things and run circles around large large teams of normal people. And so I have spent my work life trying to find and recruit and retain and work with these kind of people. My #1 job here at Apple is to make sure that the top 100 people are A+ players. And everything else will take care of itself. If the top 50 people are right, it just cascades down throughout the whole organization.

His Typical Day, Again

I've proably had 25 emails with Pixar people. So far. And I've made probably 10 Pixar-related phone calls. So I multi-task wherever I am. There's not a day that goes by that I don't do stuff on Pixar, even if I'm not physically there. And there's not a day that I'm at Pixar that I don't do stuff on Apple.

His Role At Pixar, Again

I don't direct the movies. What I do do is worry about the studio. I'm the primary manager of our relationship with Disney, which is a phenomonally good relationship. I've had two great business relationships in my career. One is the one that Apple had with Adobe in the early days, and the second is the one that Pixar has with Disney. Any relationship takes a lot of time and attention. The marketing of our films. The planning for the studio. I have dinner this week with a very promising young director we're trying to recruit. I do a lot of mentoring. We've got a lot of super-talented young people at the studio who are doing great but need a little bit of mentoring from time to time.

Answering Apple Email

Today's a slow day; I'll probably just have about 100 emails, Apple related. All these customers email me all these complaints and questions, which I actually have grown to like. It's like having a thermometer on practically any issue. If somebody doesn't flush a toilet around here, I get an email from Kansas about it. Sometimes I can get about 100 or more of those a day from people I will never meet. But I zing 'em around, and it's good to keep us all in touch.

Hollywood and Silicon Valley

Hollywood's really different than Silicon Valley. And neither understands the other at all. People up here think being creative is some guys in their late 20s and early 30s sitting around old couches drinking beer thinking up jokes. It couldn't be further from the truth. The creative process is just as disciplined as the technical process; it requires just as much talent. And yet people in Hollywood think technology is only as deep as something you buy. There's no technical culture in Hollywood, they couldn't attract and retain good engineers to save their life, because they're second class citizens down there. Just like creative people are second class citizens in Silicon Valley.