The interim CEO (iCEO) scare

The interim CEO (iCEO) scare

An abbreviated Steve Jobs timeline as background

  • July 1985 – Forced out of Apple? (resigned)
  • February 1997 – Apple bought NeXT
  • July 1997 – Gil Amelio ousted, Steve becomes de-facto CEO
  • September 1997 – Steve named iCEO (interim CEO)
  • April 1999 – I joined Apple
  • January 2000 – Steve becomes CEO

So, why did I call it a scare. Well, at the very end of the 2+ hour Macworld San Francisco 2000 keynote, Steve said the following (my transcript, with the always enticing “One More Thing…” slide up on the giant screen.

As a backdrop, this is what he said about ever becoming CEO after the NeXT purchase:

“And you will absolutely not be the CEO of Apple?” I asked.

“My name is not in the hat to be CEO,” he said.

Steve Jobs, the perfect CEO—Wired—2011 Sep 10

Note that as this speech at the end of the keynote was unfolding, my fellow Apple employees were also sharing horrified glances to each other, so it wasn’t just me.

His language for the first half struck me as “we’ve righted the ship, but it’s time for me to pass the reigns onto a rightful CEO and I can go back to Pixar. Here is the transcript, with [my notes in brackets].

“But I have one last thing. Um, I got back to Apple, along with several other people 2 1/2 years ago. Uh, what we found was a great company that needed help, a lot of incredibly talented people.

[Let’s reflect on the great stuff we’ve done before giving the bad news. Apple went from nearly bankrupt to showing progress and we don’t need desperate measures anymore]

As a matter of fact, while I’m on that, I would like all the folks from Apple that have been working on OS X, that have been working on our internet stuff, to stand up right now and give them a hand.

(20 seconds applause)

We also have some incredible partners we work with us on the graphics side and the advertising side, stand up for a minute.

(10 seconds applause)

[We have an awesome team in place that can carry on without me]

Everybody at Apple has been working hard for these 2 1/2 years. And during this time I’ve been the interim CEO. I have another job at Pixar as the CEO which I love, and so, um, I was the interim CEO at Apple.

[Oh shit, he’s going to pick Pixar. He loves it there and often protested that he did NOT want to be the CEO of Apple. Hearts are sinking]

After 2 1/2 years, I hope that we’ve been able to prove to our shareholders at Pixar and our shareholders at Apple that maybe we can pull this dual CEO thing off. And so I’m not going to be changing any of my duties at Pixar or at Apple and I’m pleased today that I’m going to drop the interim title.

(1 minute standing ovation)

[Oh, thank goodness]

MacWorld San Francisco 2000 Keynote

The media did not report his announcement of becoming the CEO as we saw it unfold at the event. It was an obvious non-event.

The 2000 announcement that Jobs would stay was anticlimactic.

Steve Jobs, the perfect CEO—Wired—2011 Sep 10

Speaking for many Apple employees at the time, we strongly hoped he would stay on, but I don’t think there was a general feeling that it was a foregone conclusion.

This was one of the most heart-in-my-throat keynotes I ever attended. First, I was a software engineer on OS X, and we were also unvieling the Aqua interface. If people hated it, Apple was really, honestly, truly doomed. They bet the whole company on it.

And we’d already bet the company on the fact that Steve would stick around as long as possible. And we weren’t quite sure he would. I wasn’t.