Thursday, June 24, 2010
The gambling man who co-founded Apple and left for $800
Pahrump, Nevada (CNN) -- Ron Wayne is usually just another gambler at the Nugget Hotel & Casino in Nevada. He comes here a couple of days a week to try his luck on the video poker machine. But on this trip, he drew some curious onlookers, as he was escorted by a CNN camera crew. A gift-shop worker asked him if he's famous.
"Well, I'm one of the founders of Apple Computer," Wayne responded.
Wayne, 76, is used to the puzzled looks. He said people assume that he must be living in a mansion.
"I'm living off my Social Security and I do a modest trade in collectors' stamps and coins," he said.
The irony of being inside a casino is not lost on Wayne. After all, if his short-lived career at Apple had gone differently, he would be holding a different kind of winnings: 10 percent of Apple's stock.
Today, that stock would be worth $22 billion.
Wayne left Apple for only $800.
"What can I say? You make a decision based on your understanding of the circumstances, and you live with it," he said.
Wayne's tenure at Apple began on April 1, 1976. His name is signed on the legal document that established Apple -- next to those of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, the Silicon Valley giants most people associate with the popular tech company, which makes the iPhone and iPad.
Jobs and Wayne had become friends a few years earlier while both were working for the Atari Corporation.
"We did get fairly chummy, had lunch together, dinner together and had conversations," he said.
As Wayne tells it, Jobs asked for his help in drafting documents and mediating a dispute between Jobs and Wozniak. He also drafted the company's first logo and operating manual. For this work, Wayne was awarded a 10 percent stake in Apple.
"What Jobs had in mind was that he and Woz [as Wozniak is sometimes called] should each have 45 percent and I would have 10 percent as mediator in any dispute that would come up," he said.
That account is backed up by other reports.
In Steve Wozniak's autobiography, "iWoZ," he described Wayne as "one of those people who seemed to have a quick answer for everything."
"He seemed to know all the things we didn't," Wozniak wrote. "Ron ended up play a huge role in those very early days at Apple."
But Wayne had early misgivings. He had been unsuccessful in starting a slot-machine manufacturing business. He racked up thousands of dollars in debt.
With Apple, he was concerned history would repeat itself.
"I could see myself getting into this situation again, and I was really getting too old for that kind of thing," Wayne said, noting that his partners at Apple were 20 years younger than he was.
"The way these guys were going, they were going to bulldoze through anything to make this company succeed. But it was going to be very rough ride, and if I wasn't careful, I was going to be the richest man in the cemetery."
Eleven days after Apple was formed, Wayne removed himself from the company charter. He eventually was given $800 for his stake in Apple, and he let go of that valuable Apple stock, which has exploded in value since.
Wayne said he doesn't let himself wonder how things could have been different if he had chosen to stay with Apple.
"Obviously he [Wayne] didn't have the foresight to know what Apple would become. Like any company in the very early stages, there's a risk associated and you've got to be willing to take it, or you're not," said Ben Bajarin, a technology industry analyst for Creative Strategies.
Wayne, whose net worth is mostly tied up in his extensive coin and stamp collection, said he's as "enamored with money as anybody else."
"But when you're at a focal point of history, you don't realize you're at a focal point of history," he said.
A retired engineer, who has worked at various companies since his departure, Wayne said he never has owned an Apple product.
"I never had a real use for computers," he said. He recently purchased a Dell, saying he's too familiar with Microsoft Windows to want to switch.