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Apple and Pixar: Steve’s Two Jobs

14 minute read
Michael Krantz/San Francisco

It’s 3:00 P.M. in Richmond, Calif., and Steve Jobs is micromanaging. He’s sitting around a conference table at his Pixar Animation Studios with a gaggle of Pixar producers and Disney marketing types, poring over the color-coded, small-print, stunningly elaborate “synergy timeline” for the upcoming Toy Story 2, which Pixar made and Disney will distribute. Ah, the endless promotional arcana of a $100 million aspiring blockbuster: trailers, press junkets, gift guides, sound tracks and on and on…

And Jobs is deeply into this. He sits there nibbling on dried fruit, quaffing his latest Odwalla fruit juice–he loves the new twist-off caps–and perusing the timeline like a rabbi studying Talmud, looking up every few minutes with another pressing question: When do the TV ads start? What’s this NASCAR thing about? How about theme-park events? Can they schedule a later meeting to review the billboards? Which news-mag show should they be pushing for? Is it possible, if the movie opens big on Thanksgiving–like incredibly, unbelievably big–that Disney might delay the date when they change the Disney Store windows from a Toy Story theme to more generic Disney Christmas stuff?

Uncomfortable silence. Well, Disney’s senior v.p. of synergy Mike Mendenhall explains gingerly, in the past they’ve found that classic characters like Snow White and Winnie the Pooh are so popular they can actually drive holiday sales for relative upstarts like Woody and Buzz.

Jobs sighs. “Yeah,” he says finally. “Pooh is huge.”

These days Steve Jobs is looming pretty large himself. At 44, the Pixar chairman and Apple Computer interim-CEO-for-life finds himself a leading force in not one but two iconic late-’90s American industries. The man who created the Mac embodies, perhaps even more fully than Microsoft’s Bill Gates, the personal-computer revolution. And a decade after he bought a fledgling digital-animation studio from George Lucas, Toy Story and A Bug’s Life have brought Silicon Valley and Hollywood one huge step closer to connubial bliss. Last week, with Apple’s luscious new iMacs unveiled and Toy Story 2 unspooling at an exclusive TIME preview, Jobs, after years spent pacing the sidelines, was suddenly at the top of both his games.

So how did he do it? The popular caricature paints Jobs as a brilliant, driven man-child running around Apple in sandals and shorts, screaming at underlings while trying to build the perfect digital machine. By most accounts, this image remains more or less correct. He really does show up most days in shorts and surfer Ts. And intelligence reports from Cupertino, Calif., indicate that the infamously fiery Jobs still has, um, anger-management issues. “Anyone who has worked with Steve during his second tour at Apple will tell you that he’s as driven, tense and temperamental as he has ever been,” says author Alan Deutschman, whose unauthorized portrait of Jobs is due out next year. Many Apple employees, Deutschman says, still fear getting in an elevator with Jobs, lest they find themselves fired before they reach their floor.

In midlife, though, Jobs has mellowed enough to chuckle at that elevator story, and seems to have vanquished at least some of his personal demons. Adopted as an infant, Jobs spent his early adulthood on a classic ’60s-era quest for personal identity, seeking transcendence and self-realization through drugs and meditation, founding Apple and establishing a New Age “family” of fervent Macintosh partisans while keeping his own out-of-wedlock daughter Lisa and her mother at a sad remove.

Twenty years later, though, the former counterculturalist has, like much of his generation, embraced traditional domestic pleasures. He’s happily married and the devoted father of four, including the now college-age Lisa. He has befriended his biological sister, writer Mona Simpson (who wrote him into her novel A Regular Guy) and made contact with his birth mother. It’s hard not to be charmed by the sheer joy Jobs derives from talking, mostly off the record, about his family: how his youngest daughter just started waving him off to work; how he won’t let his kids watch TV, lest it stifle their creativity; how, over and over, his wife Laurene makes him shave off his salt-and-pepper beard.

Familial bliss may have even helped him learn to conduct his professional life a bit more professionally. “He entered the business world a real novice,” says Regis McKenna, the renowned Valley marketing guru, who’s known Jobs since he was a teenager. “He had no management training, no business skills.” It showed. Young Jobs was a my-way-or-the-highway iconoclast who cared only that his employees embrace his apocalyptic vision for Apple as passionately as he did. “If you had religion,” recalls McKenna, “you had the job.” Such absolutism helped give birth to the Mac, but it wasn’t exactly conducive to building a stable corporation, and by the mid-’80s Jobs, with strong encouragement from Apple’s CEO and designated grownup John Sculley, had hit the highway himself.

But Jobs 2.0 is one decade older and two companies (NeXT and Pixar) wiser, and these days he is his own designated grownup. By the time Jobs returned to Apple, a succession of vision-free ceos had left the company coasting on the fumes of its past innovation, with a convoluted welter of products and no idea who its customers were. “The roots of Apple were to build computers for people, not for corporations,” Jobs says. “The world doesn’t need another Dell or Compaq.” He swiftly slashed back to four product lines–a laptop and desktop for consumers, and a laptop and desktop for professional users–ordered his design team to make Macs look hot again, and set about unclogging the foundering company’s executive arteries by replacing, according to Apple board member and former DuPont chairman Edgar Woolard Jr., “about 75% of the management team.”

The new managerial flow chart is simple: Jonathan Ive runs the design group. Avi Tevanian runs software. Jon Rubinstein runs engineering. Tim Cook runs manufacturing. And senior vice president of worldwide sales Mitch Mandich–perhaps the company’s true secret weapon–pulls it all together. Result? Apple, according to Charles Wolf, a senior analyst at Warburg, Dillon Read, has become a model of manufacturing efficiency, reducing inventory from $2 billion in early ’96 to $17 million today.

Better management and delegation also let Jobs step back from his infamous “80 hours a week and loving it” work ethic. “I read something Bill Gates said about six months ago,” he recalled last week over a long lunch in the new Apple cafeteria (when he came back, Jobs canned the company that ran that “dog-food” operation too). “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–seven days a week, lots of hours every day. But you can’t do it forever. You don’t want to do it forever.”

At any rate, even 90 hours a week wouldn’t cover dual-activist CEO gigs at two highly dynamic companies on opposite sides of the San Francisco Bay. Over and over, Jobs notes that he “doesn’t direct the movies” at Pixar, and–the odd marketing meeting aside–he has clearly relinquished day-to-day leadership of the animation house to director John Lasseter on the creative side and co-founder Ed Catmull on the tech side. But when the company does need Jobs–mostly as a public face and all-purpose corporate strategist–he delivers. The money. The marketing. The deals. He is revered for going toe-to-toe with Disney capo Michael Eisner, renegotiating the fledgling studio’s five-picture deal with the Mouse Kingdom at a time when Toy Story had made Pixar the first serious threat to Disney’s 60-year monopoly on big-ticket animated films.

The result is a company that’s swiftly emerging as a powerhouse–both in Hollywood and on Wall Street–and an executive whose life remains a perpetual juggling act. “I’m a good morning person,” Jobs says, asked to describe a typical weekday. “I’ll wake up sixish and work a little before the kids get up. Then we’ll have a little food, finish up some homework and see them off to school. If I’m lucky I’ll work at home for another hour, but oftentimes I’ll have to come in. I usually get [to Apple] about nine.” Pause. “Eight or nine.” Pause. “Having worked about an hour and a half or two hours at home.”

Of course, it doesn’t really matter where he works. Whether he’s at Pixar, at Apple or at home in Palo Alto, Jobs just parks in front of a computer linked via high-speed line to a server that offers the current state of affairs at both companies: documents, presentations and e-mail, e-mail, e-mail. “There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t do stuff for Pixar,” Jobs says, “even if I’m not physically there. And there’s not a day that I’m at Pixar that I don’t do stuff for Apple.” Today, he says over lunch, he has already answered 25 e-mails and 10 phone calls relating to Pixar, and by nightfall he will cover at least 100 Apple e-mails–many from fevered Mac-heads around the world. “If somebody doesn’t flush a toilet around here,” he says in mock complaint, “I get e-mail from Kansas about it.”

But you know he loves it. And for many employees, the boss’s volatile demeanor is a small price to pay for that passion. “Steve might be capable of reducing someone to tears,” says John Patrick Crecine, an academic turned entrepreneur and Jobs friend of long standing, “but it’s not because he’s meanspirited; it’s because he’s absolutely single minded, almost manic, in his pursuit of quality and excellence.” Indeed, Jobs’ most potent weapon is still his messianic zeal to fulfill his original vision of Apple as the bridge between the average citizen and the mysterious world of the computer. “His DNA was built into this company,” says Heidi Roizen, a partner at the Softbank venture-capital firm who has known Jobs since the beginning. “And when he came back, everything fell into place–a return to excellence in design, to listening to the consumer, to developing cool products.”

In this his closest partner is Jonathan Ive, whose much lauded industrial-design team defined the new Apple by creating the smash-hit candy-colored iMac. “We work together as designers work together,” says Ive. “We move from talking about overall goals and visions for a product to talking about how pieces of plastic are manufactured, how labels are designed.”

Thus there has been a rebirth of that rare blend of hot tech and cool aesthetics that drew Ive from London to Apple’s Cupertino headquarters in the first place. “The first time I used a Mac,” he says, “it was so clear that somebody had paid attention to details that nobody else would have noticed. I remember thinking, ‘That’s remarkable. Why did they care so much?'”

It’s Monday morning, and Jobs is onstage at the Flint Center in Cupertino, obsessing. Tomorrow the auditorium will overflow with thousands of Apple loyalists; right now he’s rehearsing the killer moment where he says, “Say hello to the new iMacs,” and the machines glide out from behind the dark curtain and across the stage. But the current lighting leaves their translucence insufficiently vivid on the gigantic onstage screen. So Jobs wants the lights brighter and turned on earlier in the roll-out. The producer, Steph Adams, speaks into his headset, telling the backstage guys to yeah, just try it again, with the edgy tone of a man whose job consists of placating a perfectionist. No good. Jobs jogs halfway up the aisle and slouches into a center seat, his legs slung over the seat backs of the next row. “Let’s keep doing it till we get it right, O.K.?”

They go again. The iMacs are still underlighted. “No, no,” Jobs whines, agonized. “This isn’t working at all.”

And again. Now the lights are bright enough, but they’re still coming on too late. “I’m getting tired of asking about this,” Jobs growls.

Again. And finally they get it right, the five impeccably lighted iMacs gleaming as they glide forward smoothly on the giant screen. “Oh! Right there! That’s great!” Jobs yells, elated at the very notion of a universe capable of producing these insanely beautiful machines. “That’s perfect!” he bellows, his voice booming across the empty auditorium. “Wooh!”

And you know what? He’s right. The iMacs do look better when the lights come on earlier. Odwalla bottles are better with twist-off caps. The common man did want colorful computers that delivered plug-and-play access to the Internet.

Now Jobs thinks that same guy wants his iMac to play DVDs and edit digital videos. Jobs has a long history of divining the high-tech future, often recognizing it in technology other people invented: the mouse. The visual desktop. The laser printer. Rainbow-hued PCs. The wireless laptop. Now, years before most people have even heard of broadband Internet access, Jobs has bet the farm on the convergence of his two companies’ products. Digital video, he proclaimed at the iMac launch last week, is “the next big thing.”

He’d better hope so. Motorola’s recent chip-shipping problems could cut Apple’s third-quarter earnings 60% (from $203 million in profits to some $80 million), and have already triggered a plunge in Apple stock from 80 to the low 60s. But Jobs’ keep-it-simple strategy–G3s and now G4s for pro users, iMacs and iBooks for the masses–has been so successful that some analysts see nothing but a buying opportunity. “This is not the old, incompetent, bungling Apple,” says Warburg, Dillon Read’s Wolf. “This is the new Apple. They have a great strategy, and they’re making sensational products.”

Will that be enough? Apple’s 12% home-computer market share is a big improvement over 6%, but it still leaves the Mac on the margins–a minority desktop operating system at a time when desktop computers may be marginalized by the thousand portable “net appliances” looming on the horizon. If Jobs’ crystal ball sees that far, he isn’t telling. “He doesn’t have a pocket Mac in the works, at least that I know of,” says Tim Bajarin of Creative Strategies Research International, a Silicon Valley consulting firm. “But he’s too smart not to be thinking about it.”

For now, though, the company is soaring, and you don’t hear much about the search for a permanent Apple CEO. Quite the contrary: 20 years after his quest began, Jobs is still chasing his dream of giving soul to silicon. Both Apple and Pixar embody his vision of the computer as an empowering cultural force that can help heal a rift between art and technology that’s as old as art and technology themselves. For his ’60s-era peers, high tech meant the cold, gray establishment that they were revolting against. Jobs knew better. “Leonardo da Vinci was a great artist and a great scientist,” he says. “Michelangelo knew how to cut stone at the quarry. Edwin Land at Polaroid once said, ‘I want Polaroid to stand at the intersection of art and science,’ and I’ve never forgotten that.”

Indeed, Jobs, more clearly than any of his contemporaries, recognized the computer as a tool not for top-down corporate repression but for bottom-up individual empowerment and creativity, a lifelong article of faith to which Apple and Pixar today bear living tribute. Before launching into his evangelistic spiel from the Flint Center stage last week, Jobs briefly eulogized Sony founder Akio Morita, grandfather of the consumer-electronics industry, who had died just a few days earlier. “He expressed his love for the human species in every product he made,” Jobs said in a clear, quiet voice. You get the feeling he couldn’t imagine a better epitaph for himself. –With reporting by David S. Jackson/Los Angeles, Janice Maloney/San Francisco and Cathy Booth/Richmond

Read the full transcript of Michael Krantz’s interview with Steve Jobs at time.com

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