Part 3: It didn’t take me long at NeXT to believe the trouble with the relationship was Steve. Everyone on the team I spoke to thought IBM’s endorsement of our operating system was crucial and if IBM failed to ship it, bad PR for us. Steve simply said about the relationship “they don’t get it.”
IBM asked me to demo NeXTstep on their IBM RS/6000 workstation at a trade show, so I did. It felt good to have a machine muscular enough to power our UNIX-based system that had heavy graphics. I wondered if Steve was afraid that their hardware would upstage ours.
Whatever the reason, we had failed to get him to believe the relationship was important and I thought Perot was the one man in the world who could. So I called him. What could go wrong? Ross had told us he was happy to hear anyone’s ideas and he had said publicly that Steve was the damndest one-man-band he had ever known.
One of his quotes about GM was:
I answered every customer complaint about a General Motors car the whole time I was on the GM board. This created great trauma inside GM because there was a department that did that. I tried that department, and all they did was send out form letters.
I got Tom Walter on the phone. He was Ross’s partner, whom we called Darth Vader. Ross was very short with a high-pitched fast-talking voice and Tom was very tall with a deep, slow voice and sculpted face.
I explained that with the board meeting coming up, we the employees of NeXT felt the #1 thing Ross could do is persuade Steve how important the IBM relationship was. Ross had started his career as IBM’s top salesman and I assumed EDS was a huge IBM partner. Tom said he would talk to Ross and call me back. He did the next day and said Ross agreed, but it was the #2 thing on his list. He didn’t say what #1 was.
Internally I was thinking perfect! Steve likes older, accomplished men who admire and mentor him, and Ross is the only person I knew whose clock speed matched Steve’s. They had an obvious bromance going over 3 years. Ross was the second-richest American and he got there via computers.
Steve asked me to set up the machines for his demo to the board. Awkward. I hadn’t told him I called Tom Walters. But we did have cool new products to show so I was sure the board meeting would be great.