I Lost the Chance to Make Billions. Here’s How I Cope
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Money & Career

I Sold Apple Stock and Lost Billions. Here’s How I Cope

He cofounded Apple, then signed away his stake. But he’s found a way to be happy

Computer screen depicting the vintage Macintosh operating system sad face icon

I’m not sure what I was expecting to find when I drove to Pahrump, an hour outside Las Vegas, to meet Ron Wayne. I was certainly expecting more than a modest 2,100-square-foot home, owned by a guy selling coins, stamps and precious metals on the internet to supplement his Social Security checks.

There is nothing especially unusual about this modest lifestyle until you discover that Wayne, 87, is one of the three cofounders of Apple, along with Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Wayne quit less than two weeks after the company launched in 1976. He sold his stock for $800. That stock would’ve been worth upward of $245 billion today.

We all have regrets, those moments when we screwed up (or got screwed over) that replay in our heads when we can’t sleep. But most of those standard-issue injustices seem laughably insignificant compared with what Wayne has to live with.

Here’s how he looks at it: Apple was actually a bad bet at the time Wayne bailed on it. In the mid-70s, Jobs and Woz were broke and only drafted Wayne because he owned a house, a car and a small bank account that could be attached to a risky debt. Getting out before the whole thing collapsed seemed like the sensible thing to do.

But even through that lens, fumbling away $245 billion would ruin the average man’s day, every day, for pretty much the rest of his life. Yet the document that codified Wayne’s financial whiff, cosigned by him and the two Steves, is framed and hanging prominently in his foyer.

“I've never regretted it,” he said as we gazed at the contract. “I’m proud of having been part of that history.”

Actually, what’s hanging on his wall is only a copy of the contract. Wayne no longer owns the original because he sold it to an autograph hunter in 1994. The man paid a few thousand dollars, then auctioned it through Sotheby's in 2011 for $1.6 million. I asked him how that deal made him feel.

“You focus a lot on negative things, Mr. Levitan,” Wayne said with a laugh.

I couldn't get over the idea that a guy partly responsible for one of the biggest tech companies in the world could only afford an out-of-date Dell desktop and a flip phone.

“When Jobs’ fortune reached the $400 million level, I thought to myself, What for?” Wayne said. “What can you do with $400 million that you can't do with $300 million? But did Steve Jobs strike you as someone who seemed happy?”

Wayne ticked off a list of things that make him happy: his health, attending a local poetry club and “eating spectacular Chinese food whenever I want.”

He even drove us in his beat-up 2002 Chevy Malibu to the China Wok Buffet & Grill, so I could sample the spectacular food for myself. And he paid for our meal.

“Nasty things happen to everyone,” Wayne said. “You don't destroy yourself in the process of bemoaning that something nasty has happened. That's pointless.”

Wayne doesn’t profess to have all the answers, or any of the answers, really. His secret to not succumbing to resentment may just be finding the courage every day to get out of bed and pull on his pants and try again.

For him, at least, regret isn’t a cancer that needs to be cut out. It’s something he learned to coexist with, to accept as part of him now, like a scar. Wayne lives with that regret by not making it the elephant in the room. It’s just a lumbering beast that never leaves his side.

As we finished our meal, Wayne noticed the tangible sense of contentment wash over me and smiled. “See? Did I tell you this was spectacular Chinese food or what?”

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