Inside the mind of Steve Jobs

Revealing documents from a court deposition last year show exactly what Steve Jobs thinks of his role at Apple

Over the last few days, Forbes has been dribbling out information gathered from a very intriguing document that it obtained through a Freedom of Information application: the 2008 deposition hearing of one Steven P Jobs, the chief executive of Apple.

The deposition comes from the government’s case against former Apple general counsel Nancy Heinen, who was accused of fraud in the scandal over the company’s backdating of share options.

While the case itself is over—Heinen settled with the Securities and Exchange Commission for $2,2-million, and other Apple executives (including Jobs) made a $14-million settlement—this is still a remarkable document for a number of reasons.

There’s no doubt that there is something very, very interesting about getting notoriously secretive technology executives speaking on the record about their business—after all, who can forget the video of the deposition of Bill Gates, where the Microsoft co-founder gets argumentative, defensive and rocks back and forth in his chair.

Of course, the 119 page text of Jobs deposition doesn’t give us the same insight as those videos of Gates—but it has plenty to tell us about Jobs himself, and about the way Apple works.

For starters, there is the ever-present subject of health. Early in the deposition, the questioner points out that Jobs “you mentioned that you’re not feeling well this morning” and asks whether he is on any medication that could affect his answers. Jobs responds by saying that he wants mitigation for looking uncomfortable: “If you just play them this part, where I’m feeling really bad or I look really bad or I look grimaced or anything.
It’s not because of the deposition, it’s just because.”

It’s also interesting to see that Jobs—who has a notoriously spiky attitude towards things past—is very fuzzy on the early days of Apple. He’s vague on things like the year that Apple’s stock market flotation took place, or which year he left Apple and went on to found NeXT and Pixar. While, admittedly, those events took place more than 20 years ago, it’s still surprising that can’t he pinpoint crucial moments such as when he became a multimillionaire.

When it comes down to the way the company runs, and the way he sees it, there are some fine-grained details. Jobs veers between a seemingly-intimate knowledge of the way the company’s stock fluctuated and a hands-off attitude that essentially put some of the decision-making in other people’s hands. It’s something revealing about the way, and who he considered to be important.

It was Jobs’ proposal to issue 4,8-million stock options to senior executives as “golden handcuffs”—incentives to stay at Apple and not get poached by rival companies.

His “ultra key” team was just four people: Tim Cook—then executive vice-president of operations, now COO and the man standing in for Jobs at the moment; Fred Anderson, the chief financial officer, who resigned from Apple after the scandal and is now MD of Elevation partners; Jon Rubinstein, the head of hardware (now chairperson of Palm, which is largely owned by Elevation); and Avie Tevanian, then head of software, who left in 2006.

Around page 89 he also goes into some details about why he thought he deserved extra financial compensation from the board (something Forbes characterises as a “nobody loves me” speech).

“Everybody likes to be recognised by their peers, and the closest that I’ve got, or any CEO has, is their board of directors. And as we’ve seen in the discussions in the past hour, I spent a lot of time trying to take care of people at Apple and to, you know, surprise and delight them with what a career at Apple could be—could mean to them and their families. And I felt that the board wasn’t really doing the same with me.”

“So I was hurt, I suppose would be most accurate word, and, you know, the board had given me some options, but they were all underwater ... I had been working, you know, I don’t know, four years, five years of my life and not seeing my family very much and stuff, and I just felt like there is nobody looking out for me here, you know.”

There’s no sense that he doesn’t take the deposition seriously, but there is a lot that he doesn’t recall. Equally, there’s a feeling of entitlement in his demands for recognition.

(At the time of the stock controversy, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak told me that he wanted some corrective action because “basically leave other shareholders treated at a disadvantage” and that “Apple’s going to have to correct that for what they’ve done”)

If you want to take a look at the source documents and see what you can glean from them, then download the full deposition here. I’m interested to see if you read it the same way as I do. -

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