Once An Electronics Nerd, Apple Computer Whiz Stephen Wozniak Now Finds Life Is a Festival
updated 05/30/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 05/30/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT
So who is this fellow and how can he make like such a big spender?
There are clues throughout Wozniak's shingled castle: scores of apples, made of crystal, papier mâché, brass, plastic. He himself wears an apple belt buckle and a gold apple neck chain. The symbolism befits the high-tech genius behind Apple Computer, the company that he and partner Steven Jobs started with $1,300 in seed money in 1976 and that last year had sales of $583 million. Unlike Jobs, who is now Apple's chairman and still has all his founder's stock, Wozniak, who is on leave from the firm, gave away about half his shares even before Apple went public. Among the gifts: $40 million in stock to a now departed first wife; $4 million to his parents, brother and sister; $2 million to friends. Nonetheless, thanks to Apple's success, Wozniak's remaining 3.7 million shares are today worth around $100 million.
Yet for all that, "the Woz" remains direct and unassuming. "One day it occurred to me that I would never have to worry about money again," he says, "but it took a long time before I stopped worrying about the price of a burger at Denny's." Just how the self-described "electronics nerd" and merry prankster got to the top is a classic—and modern—American success story.
Growing up in Sunnyvale in the Silicon Valley—the area between San Francisco and San Jose that is studded with electronics firms—Wozniak was a math and science wizard and a bit of a cutup. Recalls his mother, Margaret: "I knew my son would either be rich or wind up in jail." As a high school kid he did spend a day at Juvenile Hall when an electronic metronome he hid in a classmate's locker brought out the bomb squad. Steve's father, Jerry, a Lockheed engineer, encouraged his son's interest in computers. At 14, he won an award for building a binary adding and subtracting machine, one of the hundreds of small computers he designed before the Apple. Though he scored a perfect 800 on his math SAT, he remained, as his mom says, "backward in the social graces." He shunned parties, preferring to pore over technical magazines, fool with electronics and do practical jokes. Even after the Apple firm was started, he could be found at Bob's Big Boy Restaurant slipping Fizrin, an antacid, into the sugar containers and chuckling at the thought of the volcano that would result when someone put it in his coffee.
In the summer before his sophomore year at Berkeley, Wozniak met Jobs. Their first venture combined their tastes for fun and electronics. Having read about "blue boxes"—devices that shortcut phone company circuits, allowing someone to call anywhere for free—they built their own and sold them for $150 each to Wozniak's fellow students. Wozniak, a mimic, claims he once used the box to call the Vatican and almost got the Pope—but was cut off by a bishop who told him, "You are not Henry Kissinger."
Wozniak left Berkeley after his junior year and soon became an $18,000-a-year designer of calculator chips at his "dream company," Hewlett-Packard. For laughs, he also started a Dial-a-Joke service, recording a howl joke every day on his answering machine at home. Though Wozniak is of German-Polish ancestry, he used many "Polack" jokes, drawing protests from the Polish-American Congress.
Before long he went to meetings of the Homebrew Computer Club, a group of Silicon Valley high-tech enthusiasts that "set me on the course" of designing an inexpensive personal computer. He spent nights in his Hewlett-Packard office concocting what would be the first Apple machines. In 1976 the entrepreneurial Jobs said, "Let's start a company." Wozniak was 26, Jobs 22. "We never expected to make any money," Wozniak says, "but it was a chance to have a business once in our lives." They assembled the first Apples in the Jobs family garage and within a month landed a $50,000 order. Jobs picked the Apple name. "It sounded good to Steve," Woz recalls. "It had good, healthy associations." But what really polished Apple was Wozniak's design two years later of a flexible disc to replace the clumsy magnetic tape that all small computers then used for information storage. It was this "floppy disc," first used on the Apple II, that made the firm take off.
Just before Apple was started, Wozniak married Alice Robertson. They met over his Dial-a-Joke line, which Steve sometimes manned himself, using Stanley Zeber Zenskanitsky as a handle. After their 1980 split—"She thought we were incompatible"—Wozniak fell for Candi Clark, an Apple financial analysis staffer. Candi, the daughter of a Lafayette, Calif. building contractor, had set a state swimming record as a child. Later she took up kayak racing and made the 1976 Olympic team, but was humbled at Montreal ("Next to the Eastern Europeans and the Russians, I was nothing"). Her sports career then "fizzled. All my life I wanted to be in the Olympics. It was hard to find another goal."
Candi met Wozniak during a water-gun fight in the engineering lab at Apple. He asked her if she would go to the movies, but it took him a month to actually make a date. "He is a shy kind of guy," Candi says. "He didn't know anything about dating." Late that year they took a month-long world tour, announced their engagement from Singapore and returned to find family and friends and a brass band waiting for them at the San Francisco airport. In February 1981 they climbed into Steve's Beechcraft Bonanza to fly to San Diego to get their wedding rings from Candi's uncle, a jeweler—and crashed on takeoff. Candi suffered a skull fracture, numerous broken bones in her face, and a shattered finger. Steve had amnesia for five weeks.
Afterward he went on leave from Apple, but not because of the crash or any strain between him and Jobs. Rather, he had just wearied of being an Apple VP. "The company had become big business, and I missed tinkering. I just wanted to be an engineer." That is what he'll be when he returns to the firm, perhaps in August.
Steve and Candi wed in June 1981 in a Unitarian ceremony at her parents' home. Emmylou Harris sang at the reception. Then Steve resumed studying for his computer science degree at Berkeley, attending classes as "Rocky Clark." Says Candi: "He thought if he used his own name, too much would be expected from him." With Steve now being paid only about $100 a week by Apple, the Wozniaks are living off the income from his investments.
The idea for his festivals—US is short for Unite Us in Song—came to Steve when he was driving around one day. "The US Festival seemed like it could be one of those things we would always remember, like the way we remember Woodstock but forget the names of astronauts and vice-presidents. It was time again for some kind of significant social event."
Though he lost much of the $13 million he spent on the 1982 festival, which starred the likes of the Grateful Dead and Fleetwood Mac, Wozniak calls it a success. "Everyone went away smiling. It was the first festival about which one could say, 'A good time was had by all.' " Considering the cost of this week's shebang, some think it's the Woz who is being had. Rock impresario Bill Graham, who ran US '82, and who admires Wozniak, views Steve as a "decent person with high integrity and morals, but shortcomings in his perceptions of people. He is an innocent putz."
Wozniak aims to break even with US '83. But even if he takes another bath, he insists, "I'd be somewhat relieved. I could get back to building computers. I'm not going to become emotionally attached to money. If I lost it all tomorrow, I wouldn't really notice it. I just wouldn't have any more US Festivals."