Sculley: Only Steve Jobs Could Have Saved Apple

| News

There’s only one person that could have saved Apple after its descent into chaos in the mid 1990s, according to former Apple CEO John Sculley, and that’s Steve Jobs. Mr. Sculley made the comments at a little whoop-de-do celebrating the 30th anniversary of the IBM PC, where he was asked several questions about his tenure at Apple and his relationship with former Apple CEO and current chairman Steve Jobs.

“There is no question that nobody but Steve Jobs could have brought the company back to life,” Mr. Sculley said at the event, according to The Puget Sound Business Journal. “It shows there is a thin line between success and failure in technology.”

John Sculley

John Sculley (right) at 30th Anniversary of IBM PC Celebration
Source: Puget Sound Business Journal

For those not well versed in Apple lore, Steve Jobs recruited John Sculley for the CEO position at Apple in 1983, and for a couple of years, everything was rosy at Apple. The two even earned the nickname The Dynamic Duo and were described as being inseparable during Mr. Sculley’s early tenure at the company.

One of the most famous anecdotes relating to the two executives was the “sugar water” incident. At the time, John Sculley was the CEO of Pepsi, where he had helped the cola company turn around its fortunes with some very successful marketing campaigns. When asked about this incident, Mr. Sculley described the scene as taking place on the balcony of an apartment rented by Steve Jobs in New York City.

“Steve was dressed in his mock turtleneck, blue jeans and running shoes,” Mr. Sculley said. “In those days, he had very dark hair and deep brown piercing eyes. He looks at his running shoes a long time. Then he said, ‘Do you really want to sell sugar water, or do you want to come with me and change the world?’”

This story has been told and retold over the decades since then, and this isn’t the first time Mr. Sculley has confirmed it, but this telling includes some new details like the reference to Mr. Jobs’s piercing brown eyes.

He also included a new tidbit about what Mr. Jobs wanted so much from Mr. Sculley. According to the eventually-ousted executive, he told Mr. Jobs that the key to Pepsi’s turnaround was the company’s effort to create and market an experience, and that Mr. Jobs was very interested in that concept.

“Steve loved that because he was creating a product called Macintosh that was all about the experience,” Mr. Sculley said.

In the end, the Dynamic Duo’s relationship went south, though that wasn’t the focus of comments made during the IBM event. Steve Jobs became disillusioned with Mr. Sculley—he has since referred to him as a “bozo”—and a power struggle between the two of them resulted in Apple’s board of directors siding with John Sculley and stripping Mr. Jobs of most of his responsibilities at Apple in 1985.

It was shortly thereafter that Mr. Jobs quit Apple, formed NeXT and bought Pixar. Mr. Sculley himself went on to lead Apple to becoming an US$8 billion a year company, but was himself fired in 1994 after the debacle of the original Newton, as well as many other problems at Apple that had become manifest.

Everything came around full circle when Apple bought NeXT, getting Steve Jobs along with that purchase, which is what Mr. Sculley was referring to when he said, “Nobody but Steve Jobs could have brought the company back to life.”

Popular TMO Stories


Grammar Boy

Dissent? I think you mean decent…


“Dissent? I think you mean decent?”

Or, how about, “descent”?

Lee Dronick

Homophones will get you if just rely on a spell checker.

Lee Dronick

There?s only one person that could have saved Apple after its dissent into chaos in the mid 1990s

Ya know what? That works, it is word play, it is Shakespearian. Of course we commenly say “descend into chaos” but in this case the dissent caused the chaos.

Marcus Rosius

While we’re on spelling errirs, where is Pugent Sound?



Many thanks for that stroll down memory lane, with the added dimensions from Sculley’s reminiscence.

Sculley’s honest assessment only confirms a saying we use in medicine: Vision is 20/20 through the retrospectoscope.


Marcus Rosius: where is Pungent Sound?

Is that a stinky body of water near MS main office in Redmond?

  ; )

Grammar mom

Grammar boy said it correctly and so did the author.

“Descent” is the correct terminology.

Lee Dronick

Grammar boy said it correctly and so did the author.

?Descent? is the correct terminology.

As long as there is an its before it.

Anyway Nietzsche said “Out of chaos comes orders for Apple products.”


Sculley was out of his depth at Apple and Jobs realised it. He tried to do something about it and the board sided with the “safe” Sculley. Jobs wasn’t the only person who could rescue Apple but it needed someone who wasn’t just a “suit” to do it, it needed someone who would appeal to Apple’s customers. I don’t imagine many of those types of people would attend the grand celebration of 30 years of the IBM PC.


John Sculley will go down in history as the TOTAL A-Hole who betrayed Steve Jobs and fired him from the company Jobs co-founded.  A complete loser corporate clown


John said:  John Sculley…betrayed Steve Jobs and fired him from the company Jobs co-founded.

It’s easy to become angry with the actions of seemingly unfeeling corporate execs, especially in today’s economic climate. One can conclude that he was forced out, but it seems he was just removed from projects. Steve himself said he chose to leave, then resigned as Apple’s Chairman, and said it was the best thing that ever happened to him.

Jobs learned from it and became a better person and better leader. And with his cashed out stock he bought Pixar and founded NeXT, whose software underpinnings later became OS X and iOS. Would Apple have survived had Jobs stayed? Both NeXT and Apple were doing poorly when they merged in 1996, and NeXT’s resources in both people and software were key to revitalizing Apple.

Log in to comment (TMO, Twitter or Facebook) or Register for a TMO account