Joe Costello is the Chairman and CEO of a startup called Enlighted, a lighting sensor network company that brings connected devices to the workplace.
He’s been mostly involved with startups in the past decade, but in the 90s, Costello used to be one of the biggest star CEOs in tech.
He was the CEO of Cadence Design Systems, a design and engineering software company, that now has over 5,700 employees and $US5.1 billion in market cap. In 1997, he was even named America’s top CEO by Chief Executive Magazine.
Costello left Cadence in 1997 to look for other opportunities. That’s also when Steve Jobs, who was acting CEO of Apple at the time, called him for an interview.
Back then, Jobs had a full-time CEO job at Pixar. Costello recalls, whether it was because of personal reasons or his overcommitment to Pixar, Jobs at first didn’t seem all that interested in keeping the lead position at Apple.
But after spending a few hours walking Palo Alto, discussing the potential Apple CEO position, Costello could immediately sense that Jobs was more passionate than anyone about Apple.
“He was so passionate. It would have been obvious to anybody that he was the guy that most wanted the job,” Costello told Business Insider.
So Costello stopped the conversation and asked Jobs, “Look Steve, the best way to find a person for any job is to think of the absolute best guy on the planet for that job. Who do you think is the best person in the world?”
Jobs glanced at Costello and went silent for a bit. Then he turned his gaze back up to Costello, and said, “I am.”
Then, laughing, Costello remembers telling Jobs, “You cannot be recruiting for a CEO when you’re unsure about whether you’re the guy that wants to take it or not. It would be absolutely bloody hell if I had to work for you, when you wanted my job!”
Jobs simply responded, “You’re right Joe, that’s a problem.” Shortly after, Jobs became full-time CEO of Apple, and the rest is history.
Costello has been frequently mentioned as a potential CEO for other large tech companies, including Google and Yahoo, along the way. But he’s been spending most of his time at smaller startups lately. Most recently, he was the CEO of Orb Networks, a media streaming solutions provider, that was acquired by Qualcomm last year. His current company, Enlighted, has raised over $US55 million from Kleiner Perkins, Intel, and Draper Fisher Jurvetson.
Although things didn’t work out for the Apple job, the whole experience brings a laugh to Costello when he looks back.
“I’d like to think that I had a hand in helping Steve think more clearly about his passion,” he said.