Amelio was CEO of National Semiconductor from May 27, 1991 - February 2, 1996. During his tenure at NatSemi, Amelio cut costs and returned the company to profitability. In 1994, Amelio joined the Board of Directors of Apple Computer. Upon his resignation from NatSemi, Amelio became Apple CEO February 2, 1996, replacing Michael Spindler. His salary was a reported $2.5 million, plus bonuses and a $5 million loan.
Amelio cited five problems at Apple: shortage of cash and liquidity; low-quality products; lack of a viable operating system strategy; undisciplined corporate culture; and fragmentation, and trying to do too much and in too many directions.
To address these problems, Amelio cut costs, reduced its work force by one third, discontinued the Copland operating system, and oversaw the development of Mac OS 8. To replace Copland and fulfill the need for a next-generation operating system for the Macintosh, Amelio started negotiations to buy Be, Incorporated, makers of BeOS, but negotiations stalled when Be CEO Jean-Louis Gassée wanted $200 million. Apple offered $125 million. In November 1996, Amelio started discussions with Steve Jobs' NeXT, and bought the company February 4, 1997 for $427 million. NeXT's operating system became the basis for Mac OS X. Amelio later admitted he overpaid for NeXT.
During Amelio's tenure, Apple's stock hit a 12-year low, and in the second quarter of 1997, the company lost $708 million. Amelio was widely criticized as lacking vision and marketing ability. He resigned from Apple July 9, 1997 and was replaced by Steve Jobs. He wrote a book titled On the Firing Line: My 500 Days at Apple Computer.
After leaving Apple, Amelio embarked on a second career as a venture capitalist.