by .Anthony B. Perkins.
)Steve Jobs was happy to tell us that Pixar Animation Studios is "the only
true digital studio in the world." Pixar gains this distinction, of course, by
being the first digital effects house to actually produce a full-feature film
entirely on a computer. Standing in front of a packed house at the San
Francisco premiere of Pixar's new blockbuster, Toy Story, Mr. Jobs was at his
best. He told a story of how his four-year-old son watches the Disney classic
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs over and over again. "The thought of
participating in the production of a classic film such as Snow White, which
our grandkids may watch in 30 years, is what's exciting for me."
What is also special is that, on the heels of its first movie release, Pixar
went public at an astounding market valuation, flying by the $1 billion mark
by the end of its first day of trading. The preceding day, power journalist
John Markoff of The New York Times wrote a story on the comeback of Mr. Jobs
that landed on his paper's front page under the headline "Apple Computer
Co-founder Reaps a Billion Dollars on Stock Issue." Mr. Jobs reached this
billion-dollar zenith by buying Pixar from movie mogul George Lucas 10 years
ago for $10 million, then pumping an additional $50 million into the company
to keep it puffing until it finally showed a profit last year. Whether Pixar's
whopping market valuation holds up or not, Mr. Jobs deserves all the success
he can garner for hanging in there with his fledgling company. Few venture
capitalists we know would have done the same.
This magical success is neither the beginning, nor will it be the end of the
Jobs story. In 1976, at the age of 20, Mr. Jobs co-founded Apple Computer.
Over the following decade, Mr. Jobs designed the Apple II, and led the
development, manufacturing, and marketing of the Macintosh and LaserWriter,
two products that still make up the lion's share of Apple's $10 billion
revenues. In 1985, Mr. Jobs left Apple to found NeXT Computer, a pioneer in
object-oriented software. While the NeXT story is not nearly as glamorous as
Pixar's, we think the company is going to have a hugely successful year in
1996, and may also go public soon. [THE HERRING got a full update on NeXT in
our .interview. with Mr. Jobs.] Mr. Jobs is betting NeXT on two new
initiatives, by building software development frameworks for both Windows and
the World Wide Web.
When we met up with Mr. Jobs for the interview, we noticed that some of his
legendary idiosyncrasies still exist. The minute we showed up, he slipped out
the back door "for a walk" -- for 45 minutes. His PR people still dote on him.
When our photographer tried to take photos during the interview, he snapped
at her sarcastically and made her stop. Manipulation, selfishness, or
downright rudeness, we couldn't figure out the motivation behind his madness.
But he gave us a great interview, so we don't really care.
What we do care about is that Steve Jobs is an original. He's a guy who loves
"people who work their butts off on a concept...and bring it to market." It
is very clear that he isn't in business for the money, but for the opportunity
to create, as he used to say, "insanely great" products. Over the course of
the couple of hours we talked with him, he spoke proudly of the Mac, he
described several of NeXT's new technologies as "far-and-away the best in the
world," and his eyes sparkled when we asked about Toy Story. There is a slight
difference in Mr. Jobs' demeanor these days, however. He has ventured out of
the infamous "Steve Jobs reality distortion field." He understands now that
the best technologies don't always win. He thinks that the biggest issues that
will determine the fate of the Web are not technical issues, but
geopolitical. He also made several references to being "older" (he just turned
40), and even ironically commented that although Netscape co-founder Marc
Andreessen is very smart, he is still "very young."
British psychologist and author Anthony Storr points out in his book Solitude
-- A Return to the Self that there is a fine line between the madman and the
genius. Both require a rich fantasy life; to be the latter requires that you
keep at least your big toe on the ground. Over the years, Steve Jobs has been
both. But today he seems more firmly grounded in reality, and it is beginning
to pay off. No matter what his plans are for the future, we hope he keeps
pursuing his imagination. All you have to do is see Toy Story, or see a demo
of WebObjects, and you'll know what we mean.