Apr 14

John Sculley apologizes again—but shouldn’t

John Sculley isn’t exactly a favorite amongst Apple fans. He will forever be the man who sent Steve Jobs into exile.

Given the astronomical success of Apple following Steve’s return in 1997, it’s understandable why Sculley would say it was a “mistake” to send Steve packing. He’s said it before and he just said it again.

Get over it, John.

You may have blundered through that particular period of time, but in a weird way you can actually take credit for Apple’s — and Steve Jobs’ — great success.

Because of you, a young, passionate and inexperienced Steve matured in a way he wouldn’t have otherwise.

Being cast out of Apple was what forced Steve to reassess his life. It was during those years of exile that he matured, learning the skills he was lacking in 1985.

He built NeXT from scratch in another effort to “change the world,” this time aiming at universities and corporations. He acquired Pixar, transforming it from “the computer division” at Lucasfilm to a world-class animation studio. With NeXT, he created the OS Apple desperately needed to rejuvenate its aging Macintosh platform.

It’s hard to imagine what might have happened had Sculley found a way to keep Steve at Apple in 1985. But it doesn’t take any imagination to observe what actually did happen. It was because Steve matured exactly as he did that he started so many revolutions — with iMac, iPod/iTunes, iPhone, iPad and Pixar.

I can’t believe I’m about to quote Batman, but here I go. In the 1989 movie, Batman (Keaton) told the Joker (Nicholson) “you made me” — because the Joker had killed his parents when he was young and forever changed his life.

In an odd way, John Sculley “made” Steve Jobs. For Steve, the experience of being thrown out of his own company was simultaneously embarrassing, sobering and motivating. That one experience sent him on a journey that would change the world in the most remarkable ways.

In this most recent confession, Sculley wishes he’d found a way to keep Steve aboard, adding “But you can’t change history.”

Very true. But no need to apologize, John.

This is one bit of history no one really wants to change — except maybe you.


  • jimstead

    Exactly. And Steve never would have had the unfettered power he got, without Apple coming to the edge of the abyss.

  • Am I reading this right? Sculley is judging his action solely for its short-term business impact, ignoring the long-term results—*even when history has proven that the long-term gain was insanely greater than the short-term loss*. How much more business-headed can you get?

  • “In an odd way, John Sculley “made” Steve Jobs.”

    The makings of yet another wonderful question for Steve Jobs. Makes me cranky that we don’t have the privilege of asking him.

  • RedMercury

    I’m actually among the Apple people who liked Sculley. He knew what he was good at and brought in people (i.e., Jean-Louis Gassee) for things he wasn’t good at. Tim Cook reminds me a bit of Sculley–he’s a businessman with a few ideas (versus someone like Jobs who is an idea man). Making those ideas fly comes from people like Jony Ive.

    Lots of people put him down, but I always point out that Apple flourished under Sculley during the late 80s. It was Jobs that drove it to the brink with the Apple III fiasco and the appliance attitude in the original Macintosh (arguably right idea but wrong time). During Sculley’s time at Apple, we got color Macs (Steve was against color because you couldn’t reliably get it on paper), open Macs (Macintosh II, Iix, Iicx, Iici, etc.), QuickTime, PowerBooks, HyperCard, CDs as standard equipment, and the Motorola to PowerPC transition.

    Yeah, Sculley wasn’t the best public speaker. Hell, I remember him being upstaged by Bill Gates at WWDC back in the early 90s. He was pretty boring to listen to–it was all business stuff.

  • Michael Ellis Day

    One suspects John Sculley might be worried about going down in history alongside the Decca executive who rejected the Beatles in 1962 on the grounds they had “no future in show business” and “guitar groups were on their way out.”


    This decision also turned out to have unexpected good consequences, most significantly that the Beatles ended up meeting and working with George Martin at EMI.

  • Yosef ben Israel

    “In an odd way, John Sculley “made” Steve Jobs” Maybe, but by being the bad guy, and that’s what Sculley does not appreciate. And that is why he apologizes again and again, he cannot acknowledge having been right by being wrong :-)

  • Andrew F

    Whats up, Ken? Totally off topic but was wondering if you were planning a post on the new iPhone 5S ad? If not, what are your thoughts?

  • ksegall

    On the road for a few days without time to post. For now…

    I like the energy of it more than recent ads, thanks largely to the soundtrack.

    But it’s still in the “Look how Apple is changing the world” area, which feels softer and more mainstream.

    I know I’m a broken record on this one, but Mac vs. PC remains my gold standard for Apple commercials. Those spots were extremely fun, aggressive and had people buzzing with each new entry. They were edgy in ways that now seem far in Apple’s past.

    It’s not as if Apple doesn’t have some terrific reasons to tout their iPhone superiority: better Touch ID, less malware, no fragmentation, better design, etc. I guess they prefer to remain above the fray, but like it or not — they’re in the fray. It’s easy for someone to look at a spot like this and say “I can get the same apps on Android, and it’s cheaper.” It’s harder to say “I like Android despite its problems.”

    Minor quibble: “Gigantic” would be a far more fun title for the spot than “Powerful” — especially since that’s what the song keeps telling us. As words go, one is interesting and the other is way overused.

  • Daniel Landy

    What are your thoughts on the Earth Day ad? I thought it was tastefully humorous. http://www.slashgear.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/adgo.jpg

  • John R. Moran

    I’m not usually one for books on things like “authentic leadership,” but HBS professor Bill George has a good one called True North.

    He posits that the greatest leaders have all, during their formative development, experienced a “crucible” event – a dramatic setback or challenge that forces them to re-evaluate everything.

    He has many examples other than Steve Jobs, but I think Jobs is actually the archetype. Sculley’s firing of Jobs provided the conditions he needed to learn to subsequently be one of the greatest business leaders of our time.

  • Christopher

    Well, we have the brilliant author, Isaacson, to thank for that failing…

  • gctwnl

    Wasn’t the aiming at universities the result of Apple legally forcing NeXT not to compete with Apple?

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