It’s simple for me, though, because my tenure in Silicon Valley matches up exactly with his second stint at Apple (AAPL). I was a Valley newbie at the exact moment Jobs began his resuscitation of Apple. What I remember most about that time was how unimpressed I was with that quirky computer company in Cupertino that everybody around me wouldn’t seem to stop talking about.
I arrived at the San Jose Mercury News in June, 1997, to start a new column on technology stocks for what was the newspaper of record for the IT industry. The Merc’s business staff was full of journalists who were passionate about technology, but none who quite shared my interest in finance. I would be the “Wall Street guy” paying attention to quickly growing tech companies.
Apple wasn’t one of them.
In fact, it was hemorrhaging money. Then CEO Gil Amelio, a former chip executive at National Semiconductor, got the boot in July of that summer. More importantly, in September Apple announced that Microsoft (MSFT) would invest $150 million in Apple and promise to continue developing Office for the Macintosh. This was front-page news and the source of intense discussion. My reaction: yawn. I tried making the case that Apple wasn’t that important anymore, and that this was more of a PR stunt for the truly important company in the industry at the time, Microsoft.
I was shouted down in San Jose, of course. But looking back I realize that my viewpoint was consistent with the rest of the world’s. Apple was in one business, computers, and its share was small. Most people didn’t have an Apple product in their home. Steve Jobs was still a hot topic in the tech industry, but at that point he was old news elsewhere. Bill Gates was the brilliant visionary who combined technical chops with business savvy.
The shift from doormat to dominant was slow, and my personal-use habits mirrored the transformation of Apple in the eyes of average consumers. In hindsight, music first led me into the Apple-verse. I got an iTunes account and bought an iPod. Later I got an iPod Touch, eventually, I acquired my first home computer in years — as opposed to using my work-issued laptop — and it was an iMac. Of course, an iPad followed. My behavior was in line with everyone else now, and by everyone else, I mean people outside Silicon Valley. Whereas in 1997 few homes had an Apple product, today there are few that don’t.
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As the dominance of Steve Jobs and his company slowly grew, I started paying more careful attention to Apple. My first significant Apple article in Fortune was actually about Sony (SNE), and how badly Apple had beaten the onetime giant of music devices. As Steve Jobs grew ill, I profiled Tim Cook, Apple’s new CEO. The following year I tied together the four industries Steve Jobs transformed in the article that named him Fortune’s CEO of the decade.
This year Fortune decided to ask a different question about the amazing company Steve Jobs built: How does it work? The result was “Inside Apple; From Steve Jobs down to the janitor: How America’s most secretive big company really works,” which I’ll be expanding into a book early next year.
Journalists are supposed to pretend to be blasé about important figures they cover. Anyone, though, who bought even one Apple product during the era of Steve Jobs was a witness to history. I was privileged enough to take an even closer look at a great man and his creations.
For more, please read Fortune‘s ebook All About Steve.