Sculley: Only Steve Jobs Could Have Saved Apple

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.”