Monday, January 30, 2012

Isaacson's Jobs

Everybody has reviewed Walter Isaacson's bio Steve Jobs and rightly so - it's a terrific book about a highly successful businessman and a highly flawed person. Unsurprisingly, one of the best reviews was Malcolm Gladwell's for The New Yorker. He pegged Jobs as tweaker rather than a inventor.

The book is full of great stories, but the one that I can't get out of my mind isn't about Jobs. It's about a guy named Ron Wayne, an engineer at Atari, to whom Jobs and Wozniak gave 10% of Apple when they formed it on April 1, 1976. Here goes...

Wayne then got cold feet. As Jobs started planning to borrow and spend more money, he recalled the failure of his own company. He didn't want to go through that again. Jobs and Wozniak had no personal assets, but Wayne (who worried about a global financial Armageddon) kept gold coins hidden in his mattress. Because they had structured Apple as a simple parnership rather than a corporation, the partners would be personally liable for the debts, and Wayne was afraid potential creditors would go after him. So he returned to the Santa Clara County office just eleven days later with a "statement of withdrawal" and an amendment to the partnership agreement. "By virtue of a re-assessment of understandings by and between all parties," it began, "Wayne shall hereinafter cease to function in the status of Partner." It noted that in payment for his 10% of the company, he received $800, and shortly afterward $1,500 more.

Had he stayed on and kept his 10% stake, at the end of 2010 it would have been worth approximately $2.6 billion.