28 Apr

Ron Wayne: I could have been Rich, but I’d rather make Slots & Video Games

Apple Co-Founder Ron Wayne explains why he left to make Slot Machines

Apple Co-Founder Ron Wayne
photo Aljawad, WikiCommons

We all know the story of Steve Jobs, billionaire co-founder of Apple Computer Co. (now Apple, Inc.) that left the company behind in 1985. You’re probably even familiar with Steve Wozniak‘s story, another co-founder of Apple who assisted in the crusade to get Jobs removed from the company. One name you probably aren’t familiar with is Ron Wayne, the ‘other‘ co-founder, who accepted an $800 payoff to leave Apple because he wanted to make video games and slot machines instead.

Of course, the story goes a lot deeper than that. In a recent interview with CNNMoney, Wayne explained why he spent just 12 days as a shareholding member of Apple’s executive board after it was incorporated on April 1, 1976.

On that fateful day, Ron Wayne became the proud owner of a 10% share in Apple Computer Co. To put that into perspective, 10% today is worth approximately $62 billion. However, once the company went public, his shares would have diminished greatly, leaving him with no less than a few hundred million to play with.

But Wayne wasn’t a game player, so to speak. Actually, he was a game developer, with a passion for programming video games and slot machines. That’s what he was doing at Atari alongside Steve Jobs prior to their infamous partnership.

His role in Apple was a bit different though. According to original documents, his responsibilities at Apple were to “assume major responsibility for mechanical engineering and documentation.” He was also the man who created the original Apple logo.

According to Wayne, though, his engineering capabilities had little to do with his selection as the third co-founder of Apple. He says he was brought on to be little more than a mediator between Jobs and Wozniak; the “adult in the room”, as CNNMoney‘s David Goldman put it.

“They were absolute whirlwinds,” said Wayne. “I was standing in the shadow of giants. If I stayed at Apple I would have probably ended up the richest man in the cemetery,” he quipped.

All in all, Wayne said he does not regret his decision to accept a mere $800 payoff in exchange for his 10% shares and resignation from the Apple, because he never would have been happy working there. His true passion lied in video games and slot machines, thus he went on to accept positions at a few smaller companies where he could continue doing what he loved.

Wayne said that Jobs was not the “nicest man in the world”, especially when it came to anyone who got between him and his latest goal, but that his accomplishments throughout life were much more important, and admirable. Wozniak, on the other hand, Wayne described as “the most gracious man I’ve ever met.”

Original Apple Computer Co. LogoTheir extreme differences were the primary cause of Jobs and Wozniak butting heads so often, and getting stuck in the middle was something Wayne wanted no part of. He says he’s perfectly happy with the life he’s chosen, and while he’s not rich, he’s not “hungry” either.

Now 81 and retired, Wayne resolved to allot himself “a more comfortable situation” by auctioning off memorabilia from his days at Apple, including proof of the original Apple Computer Co. Logo (pictured right), his copy of Apple’s incorporation papers, and the original user manual for the first Apple I computer. Doing so gave him a cushy retirement fund worth tens of thousands of dollars.

“Would I rather be rich?” he asked himself. “Of course I’d like a lot of money, but I have managed. If I just wanted the money, I could have been rich and miserable.”