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Pixar Myth No. 5: Steve Jobs Ran Pixar

No, he didn't. It can be argued that he began to do so in late 1995, when Pixar was just shy of 10 years old, because he began using the titles of leadership then, when the company went public, but evidence suggests that even then it was Ed Catmull actually running the company, the same man who had done so from its earliest days on Long Island at the New York Institute of Technology in the mid 1970s.

For the first decade, to within a few days, Ed Catmull unequivocally ran Pixar from its founding in early 1986. Furthermore, Ed had run the group now known as Pixar back when it started at New York Institute of Technology on Long Island, 1974-1979, and when it was part of Lucasfilm, 1980-1986. In short Ed ran the company for 20 years without question, except for a couple of years 1988-1989 when Chuck Kolstad held the title of President. Wordplay began at the IPO of Pixar in 1995, as the following documents support.

In the prospectus issued 29 Nov 1995 in preparation for bringing the company public, Jobs claimed to have been CEO (and founder) of Pixar since its founding in 1986, but this is not true.[1]  Ed Catmull as President inherently had the function of CEO of the corporation (all corporations officially have a CEO, whether the title is used or not). Ed explicitly held the title of CEO in 1987, showing that the prospectus was wrong (see below).

The proposed company, to be spun out of Lucasfilm as Pixar in 1985, listed Ed Catmull as President and CEO and Alvy Ray Smith as Vice President and Chief Technical Officer.[2] The founding documents show that this was indeed the management structure of Pixar at its founding in Feb 1986, as does an organization chart of the company in Nov 1986.[3]

In July 1987 Steve Jobs was listed in a business plan of Pixar as "Chairman of the Board," Ed Catmull as "President, Chief Executive Officer and Director," and Alvy Ray Smith as "Executive Vice President, Director."[4] So the Board consisted of Ed, Alvy, and Steve, as at the founding of the company, with Ed as CEO.

In Nov 1988 and again in Feb 1989 Steve jobs was listed in business plans of Pixar as "Director, Principal Shareholder," Ed Catmull as "Chairman of the Board," Chuck Kolstad as "President," and Alvy Ray Smith as "Executive Vice President, Director."[5] So the Board consisted of Ed, Alvy, and Steve, as at the founding of the company, with Ed as COB. The Board had moved Ed aside as President and replaced him with Chuck Kolstad, formerly VP of Manufacturing, in an attempt to bring the company's hardware business into profitability.

The formulation adopted after the IPO (going public) of Pixar was that Steve and Ed shared the "Office of the President." Since Steve was busy running Apple by then, this at least gave the appearance of his running Pixar whereas Ed Catmull actually performed the duty. It's hard not to take the story of Steve's founding, owning, and running Pixar as a pure marketing ploy to demonstrate his business prowess. Of course, his move in taking Pixar public on almost no cash was the brilliant move that proved his prowess, without any of the other shenanigans and distortions, and it made him a billionaire.


[1] The prospectus is in Alvy's possession, dated 27 Nov 1995, p. 47: "Mr. Jobs . . . served . . . as its [Pixar's] Chairman since March 1991 and as its Chief Executive Officer since February 1986." On the same page is "from February 1986 to November 1988 he [Dr. Catmull] served as President [of Pixar]" and "from November 1988 to March 1991 he [Dr. Catmull] served as Chairman [of Pixar]."

[2] A business plan for "Pixar (A company in formation)", dated 14 May 1985, is in Alvy's possession. An earlier plan also in Alvy's possession is dated 19 Mar 1985 and states the same information.

[3] See organization chart of Pixar, dated 31 Dec 1986. Ed and Alvy manage roughly half of the company each.

[4] A business plan for Pixar, dated 6 July 1987, is in Alvy's possession. Ed and Alvy are each listed as "co-founder of the Company."

[5] Business plans for Pixar, dated 29 Nov 1988 and 15 Feb 1989, are in Alvy's possession. Ed and Alvy are each listed as "co-founder of Pixar" in both documents.