Why a former NBC and GE exec turned down jobs at Apple twice




History would say she made a “dumb” move — Beth
Comstock, pictured, isn’t so sure.

Roman Yee

  • Beth Comstock, a former executive at NBC and General
    Electric, was offered a job at Apple twice. She declined both
    times.
  • Comstock, a co-author of the book “Imagine it Forward,”
    said she was nervous about taking the job — but she also
    thought it wouldn’t afford her the opportunity to focus on
    content and storytelling.
  • Today, Comstock somewhat regrets the decision,
    especially from a financial perspective. But she understands
    why she made the choice she did.

“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.”

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