The John Sculley Interview: Apple’s DNA, Walks With Steve Jobs and More

| Editorial

I interviewed former Apple CEO John Sculley on April 11th, an insightful and enjoyable experience. While the interview was ostensibly centered around his 2014 book Moonshot! (on Amazon and iBooks), Mr. Sculley also shared anecdotes about his time at Apple experiences with the late Steve Jobs, some of which I hadn't previously heard.

In the following pages, I've taken excerpts of some of the most interesting bits of the interview. If you'd prefer to listen to the full interview, I've posted it as a special episode of The Apple Context Machine. You'll find time stamps for each question posted

Page 1 - Interview with John Sculley: His Most Important Accomplishment at Apple


The full interview:

Timestamp: 01:37

Bryan Chaffin: What do you think your most important accomplishment was while you were at Apple?

John Sculley: I came from a world where becoming number one was a big deal. That's what we did for ten years during the cola war, when Pepsi went from a small regional brand to becoming the largest-selling packaged soft drink in the United States. I tried to do two things. One was I tried to stay as true to what Steve Jobs envisioned the Macintosh would be. I was very steadfast that I did not want to move away from beautifully designed products, attention to user experience, and focusing on marketing.


The accomplishment i did feel good about was that by the end of 1992, we'd become the largest-selling hardware PC in the world. From where I had come from, being the largest-selling in your industry was what one would strive for. [...]

Mac Classic

Mac Classic, first shipped in 1990
Source: Wikimedia

The idea that Steve has was that he was going to take the computer industry in another direction. His idea was that he would build a creative tool for non-technical people that would be a bicycle for the mind, and empower them with creativity applications that would change the way individuals would be able to do all things, from publishing to other types of creative activities. So when I think about what I did during my ten years at Apple, I didn't invent a new direction for Apple. I tried to follow through as best as I was able to the vision that Steve had laid out.

When [Steve] left in 1985, we worked hard to take his vision on publishing and renamed Macintosh Office "Desktop Publishing"—we worked closely with Adobe on that—and by 1986, processors were fast enough to


In 1987, Jean-Louis Gassée, who was running product engineering at that time, wanted his engineers to have the experience of what interactive multimedia would feel like—it didn't exist in the world anywhere—so I approved us buying an XMP48 Cray supercomputer. We hooked up to Macs, and it enabled engineers to do real time, interactive rotation and manipulation of 3D geometries. No one had ever been able to do that before. I remember when Sally Ride—who was a Director at Apple at the time—tried it, and she was amazed. She said she couldn't believe you could implement a 3D image.

I remember when a young entrepreneur came in and met with me. His name was Rob Campbell. I said, "Rob, what's your company called?" He said, "Forethought." I said, "What do you do?" He said, "Well, I've got this really interesting application." I said, "What's it called?" He said, "PowerPoint." We invested in it at an $11 million valuation, and we introduced desktop presentation, which was the next step we believed was beyond desktop publishing. And it was all around Steve's vision. He never articulated desktop presentation, but it was very consistent with the kind of thing he would have done.

And then we created a concept video that I worked on with Alan Kay and several other people at Apple. We created what was called the Knowledge Navigator. It was the conception of what a multimedia computer would look like 20 years later. If you look at it today, it looks kind of familiar.

There are a lot of things we tried to do that really were part of the vision Steve Jobs had back in the early 1980s when I first met him. My argument with Steve was never over the direction or vision he had where he wanted to take Apple—or take the world—it was over the fact the machines in 1985 just weren't able to do the things he really thought they should be able to do—desktop publishing. That was the reason for the breakup between Steve and me.

Next: Interview with John Sculley: Taking Walks with Steve Jobs

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Lee Dronick

  Apple doesn’t try to be the first at doing anything, they try to be best at whatever they do… I don’t think that’s what Apple’s DNA is about. They are not trying to be the world’s most innovative engineering company. They never have. They’re just more focused on being the company that builds the coolest products in the world that everybody wants.

Consider that when you think about the Apple Car.

John Kheit

Wow, what a stupendous job Bryan.  First interview in a very long time where I’ve heard something actually new on the long and interesting mythology of Apple.  Great job!

And it’s nice to see John getting more candid over time.  It’s super interesting to hear how he wanted to follow out Steve’s vision, and you know, he did just that.  He took the mac and ran it through it’s cycle. 

But it shows how important it is to have visionaries around, to produce the next gen. which John freely cops to not being his forte.

You get the feeling he has his regrets on the debacle, which is understandable.

It’s interesting on what would have happened if Steve had stayed?  Would he have made something as amazing as NeXTSTEP (aka which became OSX)?  Without the crucible of having been put out into the wilderness, would Steve have become the great manager he became after NeXT?  The audio interview there is super interesting. Maybe not.  Or maybe it would have been even greater. 

Who knows, but a fascinating tale, and great to get more details and insight.  Thanks John and thanks Bryan!

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