Steve Jobs is sitting in the Apple boardroom. Actually, he is slouched like a teenager in one of the cushy leather chairs, his worn jogging shoes resting on the directors' table. The table is very long, very impressive--and very empty. Just Jobs here, wearing shorts and an impish grin. The old board of directors at Apple is history, he says. He's about to leave for Boston, where he'll make that news public, along with a far more dramatic announcement. One more thing, he says, feet still propped up on the executive woodwork--the company's headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., is history too. Eight stories of corporate excess are about to be abandoned. "I hate this building," says Jobs. "This building has come to symbolize everything that went wrong with Apple. It's about corporate hubris. Greed." This is not a building that can make "insanely great" computer products.
The rebel flag is flying over Apple Computer, Inc., again, thanks to Jobs. The Silicon Valley visionary who co-founded Apple in his father's garage in 1976, who launched the wildly successful Macintosh only to be booted by the corporate pinheads in 1985, is back running his first love. No, he's not the CEO, nor even chairman of the board. But until there's a new boss, Jobs is firmly at Apple's helm, and take it from us, the beleaguered company will never be the same. Take it too from the 1,600 Macintosh believers who gave him a standing ovation at the Macworld Expo in Boston last week, then booed, hissed and finally sat in shocked silence as Jobs announced that Apple's salvation would be a strategic alliance with none other than... Bill Gates of Microsoft.
Understand, the idea of Jobs returning to Apple is something akin to that of Luke Skywalker returning to fight what, until last week, cultists regarded as the evil empire. Gates, by comparison, was perceived as a dweeb Darth Vader, the billionaire bad guy who usurped the idea of the Macintosh's friendly point-and-click operating system for his now dominant Microsoft Windows.
Boo, hiss, a strategic alliance indeed. Is Jobs crazy? "Madman at the wheel, eh?" he said, laughing, as he walked off the stage in Boston.
American business has had its share of imaginative entrepreneurs, malevolent bosses, boardroom plotters who hatch late-night coups, strategic decision makers who make disastrous turns and heroic turnaround artists who restore corporate glory with breakthrough thinking and messianic zeal. Generally, that would describe more than one person. But Jobs is a one-man miniseries of capitalism whose ratings are rising again. Within hours of the announcement, Apple stock soared 33% to $26.31. Sipping a celebratory water on the plane ride home, Jobs pointed out that people had been so shocked they missed the big news: Microsoft would be paying an undisclosed amount to settle claims that it had used seminal Apple computer patents. "Three or four weeks ago," said Jobs, "I called Bill and said Microsoft and Apple should work more closely together, but we have this issue to resolve, this intellectual-property dispute. Let's resolve it." With Jobs' no-nonsense negotiating, it was done quickly, with Gates not only promising to pay off Apple but even investing $150 million in nonvoting Apple stock. The rebels can now withdraw to their original "campus" in Cupertino--the one without the fancy boardroom--and live on to fight another day.