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 benefitting from the still-new personal computing revolution. It also identifies him as part of a surge of freshly minted millionaires running their own businesses.
An American risk taker
“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 was one of these figureheads, despite the fact that he was not actually running Apple at the time. (In 1982, that role would have been filled by Jobs’ early mentor Mike Markkula.) Jobs, however, was frequently pushed as a spokesperson for Apple thanks to his intelligence, public speaking ability and good looks.
Interestingly, just a few years after the Apple II (Apple’s first mass-market computer) was launched, 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 being in a plane crash and then deciding to take time out 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.
Although Apple was only one of the companies profiled in the Time article, it was the recipient of a lengthy sidebar written by a young reporter named Mike Moritz.
If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Moritz later wrote the early Apple biography The Little Kingdom: The Private Story of Apple Computer, before being inspired enough by Apple that he ditched journalism for a highly lucrative career as a venture capitalist.
What happened next
The Time story, while a great bit of publicity for the company, wound up leading to a moment Jobs remained bitter about for years. In December that year, a rumor spread that Time was considering making Jobs its “Man of the Year,” which 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,” as Time staff noted that:
“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 would have been disappointing enough, but the article also included some less-than-flattering comments about Jobs, with one colleague saying, “Something is happening to Steve that’s sad and not pretty.” Plus, a Mac project originator said: “He would have made an excellent King of France.”
In the aftermath, Jobs cut off Moritz, who he had previously said would be Apple’s official historian. Years later, in his officially sanctioned biography, Jobs said that 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 that Jobs was never seriously considered by Time‘s editorial staff for the title of “Man of the Year.”
Nonetheless, this first Time cover proved to be an important step in influencing Jobs’ demand of near-total control over the Apple narrative as reported by the media.