Letters from Steve: ‘If I Succeed, Call Yourself an #$%& for Me’

| Editorial

I love this one: some folks may not remember, but rumors started up in 1996 that Steve Jobs might team up with Oracle Larry Ellison to buy Apple, or maybe Mr. Ellison was simply going to buy Apple so his buddy could run it again.

Letters from Steve

Many people thought this sounded awful. Steve Jobs was kind of a mess when he left Apple, and they thought he'd make a mess of things if he came back to the company, too.

This might be hard to reconcile with hindsight. In reality, Mr. Jobs saved Apple, brought in a team that reinvented the Mac, ushered in the iPod, launched iTunes, forever changed mobile phones and showed the world that a tablet was useful after all.

Nonetheless, it was true at the time. Many people were wary of Steve Jobs. Heck, even when he did come back in the form of Apple buying NeXT, I personally penned the following gem (forever enshrined as Apple Death Knell #9): "Mr. Jobs, go back to Pixar and make movies, I think you have done enough to 'save' Apple."

What got me thinking about this was a 1996 email exchange between Steve Jobs and a person who had pleaded with him to stay away from Apple. Mactrast highlighted the exchange Monday, but BusinessInsider first published it in November of 2012.

Michell Smith had written to Mr. Jobs saying, "'Please,' I implored him, 'don't come back to Apple, you'll ruin it.'"

Mr. Jobs wrote back, as he was wont to do, explaining that he wanted to save the company. According to Mr. Smith, he also explained how he would try to do it, though he didn't offer any details in his explanation to BI.

And then he wrote the words I'll never forget:

"You may be right. But if I succeed, remember to look in the mirror and call yourself an asshole for me."

Consider it done, Steve. I could not have been more mistaken.

You weren't alone, Mr. Smith. Lots of us were wrong, and just like you, we couldn't be more pleased by how wrong we were. Plus, that exchange is sort of Steve Jobs in a nutshell.

If you didn't catch the BusinessInsider article when it came out, it's worth a looksee now. It features ten stories from people who had some kind of interaction with Steve Jobs when he was alive. They're all interesting, and some of them are very cool.

Image made with help from Shutterstock.

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Lets see. 1996. That was about the time I bought a DOS card for my Mac so I’d have my bases covered if Apple did fold. That’s how bad it had gotten. I wasn’t sure that SJ would be able to fix Apple either, but then I wasn’t sure how much more messed up it could have gotten before it went the way of Gateway and Commodore.

Them was grim times.


I personally penned the following gem (forever enshrined as Apple Death Knell #9): “Mr. Jobs, go back to Pixar and make movies, I think you have done enough to ‘save’ Apple.”

Bryan Chaffin, I do declare, are you actually taking responsibility for something you said in the past?!?!?  I commend you on being a man and not a pathetic insulting troll coward, and I continue to respect what you say on TMO going forward because of it.  As always, thank you for your outstanding work.



Ha, I remember those Geoduck. Who knew that 10 years later I’d be buying an Intel iMac capable of booting Windows?

I was researching new computers in 1997. Bad times. Fortunately, by the time I was ready to buy in 1998, Apple was being much more competitive with costs and components with the G3 systems.

Bryan Chaffin

I very much remember my rage at the ending of Mac licensing. The Starmax G3 system (I still have) was light years ahead of Apple’s Macs, and Power Computing’s G3 tower was even more amazing. Oh, how I could kick myself for giving it back when the only person who knew I had it had quit earlier that same day…

Be that as it may, I was totally wrong. I am so, so, so, so glad that Apple survived as a whole widget product company. As a consumer, I am far better off with today’s Apple.

Speaking of predictions, Ron. It may interest you to know that I first met Brad in 1997 or so. I wrote a piece whining about Steve killing OpenDoc for Webintosh. Brad wrote me an email telling me how wrong I was. He was an OpenDoc developer at the time and he read me the riot act defending Steve’s decision. He said that OpenDoc could never survive and that Apple shouldn’t waste money on it. I forget his exact words, but Brad was spot on (and I was wrong again).

Geoduck and KitsuneStudios are right. Those were dark times—stressful times to be a “fan” of Apple. It’s much more pleasant looking back at that era through Hindsight Goggles™.


Who brought Brad up, Bryan?  I sure didn’t.  Not even sure what made you think of Brad from my post…  wink

But, since you brought him up, that is very interesting, and shows how people can change over time.  As you probably know well by now, I have absolutely no issue giving credit where credit is due, just as I give criticism where criticism is due.  I am just totally disgusted when credit is taken (or given to oneself) and criticism is ignored or hidden from.  Just my personality, I guess.  But thanks for the note, I do appreciate it.


Haha, that’s awesome: ruthlessly straightforward, and unapologetically Jobs.

My recollection in ‘96 is that at the time, I was going to school for graphic design, but can’t remember if I had gotten connected to the internet at that time (it was either 96 or 97). I knew very little about computers (the year before, I literally didn’t know how to turn one on), and certainly wasn’t up on tech news. The only info I got in that regard came from the free Macworld subscription that came with my Performa.

I knew of Steve Jobs and his situation with Apple, but didn’t know just how dire it was. I do remember that from what I had read, he vaguely seemed like an asshole to me and I wondered why they’d want a two-time loser like that running the show.

As it turned out, I can look myself in the mirror, call myself an asshole and be grateful for it. “Thank you Steve, may I have another?”

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