February 15, 1982: Steve Jobs appears on the front cover of Time magazine for the first time, becoming the public face of successful tech entrepreneurship.
The first of many Time covers for Jobs, the article — titled “Striking It Rich: America’s Risk Takers” — casts him as the prototypical young upstart benefiting from the still-new personal computing revolution. It also identifies him as part of a surge of freshly minted millionaires running their own businesses.
Steve Jobs: One of the new American ‘risk takers’
“A new breed of risk takers is betting on the high-technology future,” the article starts (paywall).
“It is among the most durable of American dreams. The young man with a bright idea for a new product or service decides to form his own company. He invests his family’s savings in the new venture. He is soon working 18-hour days but does not mind because the company is his own. Sales start sluggishly, and he makes enough mistakes to fill a textbook. Eventually it all pays off. Profits boom; he makes it big. He becomes wealthy beyond his wildest hopes.
That is not just some Walter Mitty fantasy. New businesses are being created in the U.S. today as never before. Last year some 587,000 companies were incorporated, 80% more than in 1975 and 53,000 more than in 1980. During the past 18 months, hundreds of people became millionaires or multimillionaires when shares in their new companies were sold to the public for the first time. Among the stock winners: Bill Saxon, 53, of Saxon Oil Co. ($212 million); Philip Knight, 43, of Nike athletic shoes ($178 million); Herbert Boyer, 45, and Robert Swanson, 34, of Genentech ($32 million each).”
Thanks to Apple’s IPO in December 1980, Jobs became one of these figureheads, despite the fact that he did not actually run Apple at the time. (In 1982, his early mentor Mike Markkula filled that role.) Jobs, however, frequently acted as a spokesman for Apple, thanks to his intelligence, public speaking ability and good looks.
Jobs’ first Time cover came just a few years after the launch of the Apple II (the company’s first mass-market computer). Interestingly, it was Jobs — not Jobs and co-founder Steve Wozniak — who made the Time cover. Woz was on a two-year self-imposed leave of absence from Apple, after surviving a plane crash and then deciding to take time off to figure out what he wanted to do with his life. From this point on, Jobs would take the central role in the majority of Apple profiles.
Apple was only one of the companies profiled in the Time article. However, a lengthy sidebar written by a young reporter named Mike Moritz focused on Cupertino.
If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Moritz later wrote the early Apple biography The Little Kingdom: The Private Story of Apple Computer. Inspired by Apple, he later ditched journalism for a highly lucrative career as a venture capitalist.
What happened next
The Time story, while a great bit of publicity for Apple, led to something Jobs remained bitter about for years. In December that year, a rumor spread that Time was considering making Jobs its “Man of the Year.” That prompted Moritz to carry out a fresh round of interviews with Apple personnel.
When the issue eventually came out, however, the “prize” went to “The Computer.” Time noted:
“It would have been possible to single out as Man of the Year one of the engineers or entrepreneurs who masterminded this technological revolution, but no one person has clearly dominated those turbulent events. More important, such a selection would obscure the main point. Time’s Man of the Year for 1982, the greatest influence for good or evil, is not a man at all. It is a machine: the computer.”
That proved disappointing enough. But the article also included some less-than-flattering comments about Jobs. “Something is happening to Steve that’s sad and not pretty,” one colleague claimed. Plus, a Mac project originator said Jobs “would have made an excellent King of France.”
Apple’s relationship with the media
In the aftermath, Jobs cut off Moritz, who he previously said would become Apple’s official historian. Years later, in his officially sanctioned biography, Jobs said he and Moritz “are the same age, and I had been very successful, and I could tell he was jealous and there was an edge to him. He wrote this terrible hatchet piece.”
Jobs’ biographer, Walter Isaacson, claims Time‘s editorial staff never seriously considered Jobs for the “Man of the Year” title.
Nonetheless, that first Time cover influenced Jobs’ demand for near-total control over the Apple narrative. It became a formative moment that would frame Cupertino’s famously adversarial relationship with the media in coming years.