Steve Jobs Versus John Sculley


Apple needed some adult supervision for its enfant terrible. In 1983, Steve convinced Pepsi president, John Sculley, to be Apple's president. John explains that he was hesitant about taking the role. Steve met John in his office. He stared directly at John with his “very piercing palmetto berry eyes” and asked the question, "Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life or come with me and change the world?". The brilliance of this line is that Steve must have known that these words would be carved into the stone of Apple mythology. It’s now become mandatory that every writer of Steve’s story include the John Sculley sugar-water quote. 

John raised the initial price of the Mac to US$2500. This was more than the cost of a 2011 12-core Powermac desktop – adjusted for inflation. His gluttonous price tag was one of the major reasons that people shy away from Macs to this day. 

After a year of bad Mac sales, someone needed to play the fall guy for this disaster. Who better than the company bad boy? John calls an emergency meeting one morning and tells Steve, "I'm running this company, Steve, and I want you out for good. Now!" John demanded that everyone in the room choose Steve or John to lead Apple. Steve remains quiet the whole time. A decision is made. His duties are taken from him. A quarter of a century later, John admitted in an interview with Bloomberg that, “The talent Steve has is so … so extraordinary. We should’ve figured out a way to work with it.”[1] John said Steve will not talk to him to this day

An adoptee suffers from abandonment trauma every time they are rejected. One can only imagine the resentment Steve harbors for John for kicking him out of his own company. In PBS’s doco, Triumph of The Nerds, Steve lamented,He destroyed everything I spent ten years working for (ehem) starting with me.”[2]

Upon exiting stage left, Steve made a dramatic flourish with a speech to the press:

If Apple becomes a place where computers are a commodity item, where the romance is gone, and where people forget that computers are the most incredible invention that man has ever invented, I'll feel I have lost Apple; but if I'm a million miles away, and all those people still feel those things, then I will feel that my genes are still there.[3]

Only a residue of Steve's romance was left behind at Apple. It could be found in a 1995 Macintosh commercial narrated by renegade filmmaker, Oliver Stone. He had just completed a controversial film about another maligned leader, President Nixon. Oliver’s words could have been borrowed from Steve's philosophy:

So what is power?
Power is the ability to think for yourself,
being able to learn from your mistakes,
thinking with your heart as well your head,
to control your own life,
to live your life the way you want to,
not be tied down.
Power is challenging conventional wisdom,
making people see things in a different way,
shaking things up.
Power is making things happen.
Power is Macintosh.

Aside from this thirty-second reminder of the past, Steve's worst Apple nightmare came to fruition. The Apple range became a swamp of models, sub-models, and sub-sub-models that confounded the public and dragged the company down. In the hope of "inspiring excellence", John gave each Apple employee a copy of his autobiography - at Apple's expense. The book was called Odyssey: the Journey of a Marketing Impresario.[4] John’s book dismissed Apple’s real marketing impresario as “a zealot, his vision so pure that he couldn't accommodate that vision to the imperfections of the world". He then tried to stop Steve from rebuilding his career. John sued Steve for using company research to launch his new company, NeXT. The suit was dismissed before it even got to court. Apple also failed with flying colours in suing Microsoft for stealing the Mac GUI to make Windows. The lawsuit was a joke because Steve had originally stolen the GUI from Xerox.


[1] Bloomberg.com (2010, October 14) Bloomberg Game Changers: Steve Jobs [Video]. Retrieved from http://www.bloomberg.com/video/63690380/

[2] Oregon Public Broadcasting. (Producer). (1996). Triumph of The Nerd: The Rise of The Accidental Empires [DVD].

[3] Lam, B. (2009, June 25) The Life of Steve Jobs – So Far. Gizmodo.com. Retrieved from http://www.gizmodo.com.au/2009/06/the-life-of-steve-jobs-%E2%80%93-so-far/

[4] Sculley, J. (1998) Odyssey: Pepsi to Apple... a Journey of Adventure, Ideas and the Future. New York: Harper-Collins.

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