Steve Jobs’ wilderness years: The Brent Schlender tapes

The reporter who knew Jobs best discovers a trove of forgotten interviews

Rummaging through a storage shed after Steve Jobs' death, Brent Schlender came across a few dozen interview tapes he had made during 25 years of covering Apple's co-founder for the Wall Street Journal and Fortune. Some were as long as three hours. Some had never been transcribed.

Schlender drew heavily on those recordings to produce Fast Company's May cover story about Jobs' so-called wilderness years. He makes a strong case that this middle period was, in fact, the most pivotal of Jobs life:

"He finally settled down, married, and had a family. He learned the value of patience and the ability to feign it when he lost it. Most important, his work with the two companies he led during that time, NeXT and Pixar, turned him into the kind of man, and leader, who would spur Apple to unimaginable heights upon his return."

Schlender's story is lively, persuasive and rich with reportorial gold. I'll tease you with just two quotes:

On Apple's (aapl) management after Jobs was ousted:

"Right now it's like the wicked witch in The Wizard of Oz: 'I'm melting. I'm melting,' " he told Schlender in the mid-1990s. "The jig is up. They can't seem to come out with a great computer to save their lives. They need to spend big on industrial design, reintroduce the hipness factor. But no, they hire [Gil] Amelio [as CEO]. It's as if Nike hired the guy that ran Kinney shoes."

On the organizational design of Pixar:

"I started to learn about how films are made," Jobs said. "Basically, it's bands of gypsies getting together to make a film. After the film, they disband. The problem with that is we want to build a company, not just make a single movie."

There's lots more where that came from. You can read the full story on here or, starting Thursday, on Fast Company's new iPad app.

A couple weeks after Jobs died, Schlender wrote a lovely reminiscence for Fortune. You can read that story here.

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