Eleven years after co-founding Apple, Steve Jobs was fired.
So, in 1985, Jobs used his ambition – and $12 million of his own money – to launch NeXT, a company Jobs started in order to build computers for colleges and researchers. And, this week, a piece of history from that period in the tech icon's career hit the auction block.
In 1989, one year after NeXT released its first computer, Jobs extended what he deemed to be an "insanely great" job offer to David Nagy, who was working as a product manager at Apple at the time. Jobs offered Nagy a salary of $80,000 per year, paid monthly in advance, to join him at NeXT. According to the offer letter obtained by RR Auction, the role – which didn't have an actual title – also came with a $5,000 signing bonus, options to purchase 5,000 share of NeXT common stock and coverage under the company's employee healthcare plan.
Jobs' letter ends with a bit of cheeky confidence in the form of an enthusiastic sentence – "I accept this insanely great offer!!!" – above a blank space where Nagy was meant to sign his name. However, Jobs was not actually able to poach Nagy, who ended up staying at Apple until 1993.
RR Auction's website currently lists the letter's lot as "closed", but the auction house has not yet announced if the letter sold. The letter's estimated value is over $30,000, according to RR Auction.
Prior to extending an offer to Nagy, NeXT was trying to pivot. Their original $10,000 computer wasn't marketable to its intended audience of educators and scientists. Jobs wanted to bring on Nagy to "develop product strategies and plans, third party partnerships and marketing programs," just as he was doing at Apple, according to a provenance letter Nagy wrote and submitted to RR Auction.
Nagy added that while he knew NeXT was struggling to get off the ground, he still regrets turning down the job.
"The offer was very unusual in that there was no job title, department, or specific areas of responsibility," Nagy wrote in the letter. "I loved my job at Apple and didn't think NeXT would be successful, but in retrospect obviously should have taken the opportunity."
In 1997, Apple bought NeXT – which ultimately became known for its computer software – for $429 million and rehired Jobs.
For what it's worth, the $80,000 salary Jobs was offering would be worth nearly $180,000 today, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But given the lack of a job title and Jobs' abrasive leadership style, it's also possible that the offer wasn't quite as fantastic as advertised.
Guy Kawasaki, who worked for Apple throughout the 1980s and 90s, said working for Jobs "was sometimes unpleasant and always scary."
"In the Macintosh Division, you had to prove yourself every day, or jobs got rid of you," Kawasaki wrote in a contributing article for CNBC Make It. "He demanded excellence and kept you at the top of your game… but it drove many of us to do the finest work of our careers."