“I had every reason to say yes,” Beth Comstock told Business Insider, “but I said no.”
Comstock recently left General Electric after nearly three decades there, culminating in her role as vice chair. She was referring to the job offers she received — and ultimately declined — from Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs. Comstock recounts the experience in her new book, written with Tahl Raz, “Imagine it Forward.”
It was the end of 2005, and as NBC’s head of digital (GE was then NBC’s parent company), Comstock had worked with Apple to get their digital content on iTunes. Somewhat unexpectedly, she received a call from iTunes’ vice president, offering her a job as general manager for iTunes. Jobs called her as well, and Comstock went to Cupertino to meet with him.
In “Imagine it Forward,” Comstock writes that she felt conflicted, but turned down the job. “The environment seemed very command and control, and I had been trying to get away from that at GE/NBC,” she writes.
Two months later, Jobs called her again and invited her to “take a walk” with him in San Francisco. Comstock learned that he wanted her to work directly for him, building on the work she’d done on Ecomagination, a sustainability strategy, at GE.
Again, Comstock was torn; she made spreadsheets with pros and cons of taking the job. Again, she turned it down.
One key reason for declining the job offer, Comstock writes, was that she didn’t want to uproot her family. At the time, she was living in Connecticut with her husband and two daughters, one of whom had just started high school.
“I was also nervous about taking an assignment that was so vague,” Comstock writes.
Just as meaningfully, Comstock told Business Insider, she wanted to focus on content over technology, making NBC seem like a more natural fit. “At that point in time,” she said, content and technology “seemed like very separate paths.” This was still two years before the iPhone debuted — and “Steve Jobs wasn’t the Steve Jobs,” she said.
“In my gut, I worried that I might not have thrived in that environment”
In the years that followed, Comstock said, she sometimes regretted her decision. “I regretted that I hadn’t pushed myself to be better,” she said. “Certainly when the stock options came rolling in.”
She added, “History would say that was a really dumb move not to take that assignment.”
In the book, Comstock writes that turning down Steve Jobs “may have been one of my biggest missed opportunities,” largely because she missed the chance “to be tested, to grow and be made better.” Still, she writes, “in my gut, I worried that I might not have thrived in that environment. There may have been too many constraints on my ability to grow and innovate.”
Comstock also told Business Insider that she can justify her decision by remembering that “often we just take things because they seem amazing. And you realize you have the same challenges in pretty much any company.”
In retrospect, she said, “I picked a path and had to be committed to make that path work.”
Originally published on businessinsider.com
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