GUY RAZ, host:
Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.
This past week, Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the latest iPhone. It's an event that's become the tech world's equivalent of the Oscars.
The story of Apple's founding is the stuff of legend in the Silicon Valley: Two young programmers, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, created that company out of nothing.
But there was a third founder. His name is Ron Wayne. And on April Fools' Day 1976, he got together with Jobs and Wozniak to write Apple's incorporation document. Twelve days later, Wayne left Apple and a stake in the company that today would be worth billions.
He now lives in a modest home outside Las Vegas, and when I spoke with Ron Wayne a few days ago, he recounted the beginnings of Apple Computer.
Mr. RON WAYNE: Jobs and I had known each other, had worked together at Atari. He was a contract engineer for Atari. I was the chief draftsman and product development manager.
RAZ: Atari, which primarily made computers, PCs and video games, right?
Mr. WAYNE: At that time, it was strictly street, coin-operated video games. And Jobs and I were fairly chummy. We had lunch together, had dinner together, had interesting conversations about all sorts of subjects and so on.
RAZ: And I understand he was considerably younger than you. You were sort of a veteran at the time and he was like a kid, right?
Mr. WAYNE: Essentially, that's correct. I was in my early 40s and he was in his early 20s along with Wozniak. The two of them were involved in a computer club with people who were essentially tearing business computers apart and putting the bits and pieces together and make up some sort of a personal computer, since no personal computers existed at that time.
And Woz eventually came up with a basic circuit that laid the foundations for the personal computer. The two of them finally decided that maybe it might be a good idea to go into a business manufacturing personal computers.
Everything went along just fine at the beginning until Jobs and Wozniak came across a mild dispute, and it had to do with the rather whimsical nature of Mr. Wozniak. And he wanted the latitude to use that circuitry in other places besides the Apple computer.
RAZ: But of course, Steve Jobs was saying: Wait a minute. We've developed this together for this company that we kind of want to start. This is proprietary.
Mr. WAYNE: You've got it. That's exactly right.
RAZ: And so that's where you came in.
Mr. WAYNE: That's where I came in because Steve Jobs was not exactly able to persuade Wozniak that that's really what the situation was, and he thought that maybe I could do a better job.
So I invited them to my home, and I was able to finally get Wozniak to understand the proprietary nature of such circuitry and how important it was that it be the property of Apple.
And as it turned out, Jobs was rather impressed with my ability to play diplomat with Wozniak and suggested that they would form a company based on 45 percent for himself, 45 percent for Wozniak and 10 percent for me as a tiebreaker.
RAZ: And so you began to draft an agreement, right, a company statement that became Apple Computer, right?
Mr. WAYNE: Essentially. I had had some background in writing and legalese, so I actually drew up the original, three-page contract and put in all the details and understandings that had been agreed to by everyone. And three copies were run, we signed them all off and then we went down to the Santa Clara County registrar's office and filed it as a company.
RAZ: Twelve days later, you decided to leave the company. Why?
Mr. WAYNE: One of the things you have to understand is that a few years before, I had had my own corporation in Las Vegas. I used to design and build slot machines. I don't think I was in business too long before I realized I really had no business being in business.
RAZ: So the business collapsed or...
Mr. WAYNE: Yeah. I was a much better engineer than I was a businessman.
RAZ: You lost a lot of money?
Mr. WAYNE: Oh, boy. The whole thing folded up. I went back to California literally with $600 in borrowed money and then spent the next - oh, year and a half making sure that all the creditors were paid off 100 cents on the dollar and I bought back every share of stock that people had bought. And it was a very traumatic experience.
RAZ: Traumatic. And so - traumatic. So you obviously were not interested in taking that kind of risk again.
Mr. WAYNE: You have it exactly. I had no...
RAZ: But what kind of risk did you - what...
Mr. WAYNE: This is something I must clarify. I had no doubt whatsoever that Apple was going to be a very, very successful enterprise. What I was concerned with was that the beginnings of the company were going to be quite a rollercoaster. And at my age and the experience and background that I had, made me feel I really wasn't up to going through that kind of an exercise.
Mr. WAYNE: So I simply went down to the registrar's office, pulled myself off the agreement. There was no animosity either between Jobs or Wozniak or myself. It was simply a matter of a decision I made based upon the circumstances.
RAZ: But why did you do that? I mean, simply by being part of the company, were you worried that it opened you up to liability or...
Mr. WAYNE: Absolutely, it did.
Mr. WAYNE: For a start, Jobs had gone out, and in a very businesslike way, had sold some personal computers to a retail outlet by the name of The Bike Shop. And two things immediately popped up. One, I heard that The Bike Shop had a terrible reputation for not paying their bills. And second, very appropriately, Jobs had gone out and borrowed $15,000 to get the materials necessary to fill that order.
But this was a company, not a corporation, which meant that I was immediately liable for 10 percent of that $15,000, and if the thing blew up, I had no idea where I was going to come up with $1,500 in order to cover my end of the obligation.
To be very simply to focus it down, I thought that if I stayed with Apple, I was going to probably wind up the richest man in the cemetery. So I figured I'd better go off and do other things.
RAZ: You would probably have a heart attack.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. WAYNE: So that was basically it. I was just not prepared for that kind of adventure.
RAZ: No one ever offered you a job or said, hey, you know, we'd like to bring you back into the company?
Mr. WAYNE: Well, twice since I separated myself from the company, Jobs offered me a position at Apple, and on both occasions, I declined.
Mr. WAYNE: Because I like to take things from beginning to end, where I can wear six or seven hats. I couldn't do that at Apple. I was going to be in one niche or another, and that wasn't my style of working.
RAZ: Apple, as you know, has just been named the world's most valuable tech company, surpassing Microsoft, worth something like $222 billion. You've heard this before. I'm sure you've thought of this many times. Your 10 percent share would be worth billions of dollars today. Do you ever ask yourself what if?
Mr. WAYNE: To what purpose? I mean, whatever has been, has been. I learned a long time ago not to what if these things. It means nothing. All you can do about yesterday is to learn from it. Would I have been better off if I'd have stayed with them? Probably, but at what cost? I don't know.
RAZ: Ron Wayne, what are you doing now? What do you do for a living?
Mr. WAYNE: I'm retired. I live on my Social Security and I supplement my income by casually dealing in collector stamps and coins. I've also done a few little engineering projects on the side, and I've written a book - matter of fact, two books, which I hope someday to be able to publish, and maybe I can do something out of that. But I am not in an uncomfortable situation, let me put it that way.
RAZ: Is it fair to say that you did not become a rich man?
Mr. WAYNE: I did not become a rich man. I've never been rich. But I've never been hungry, either.
RAZ: That's Ron Wayne. He was one of the founders of Apple Computer back in 1976. If he'd stayed, his share would have been worth about $22 billion today. We spoke with him from his home in Pahrump, Nevada. That's about 60 miles west of Las Vegas.
Ron Wayne, thank you so much.
Mr. WAYNE: Thank you very much for the opportunity.