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

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

Page 2 - Interview with John Sculley: Learning from Steve Jobs and Bill Gates it Was Never about the Money


The full interview:

Timestamp: 15:14

Bryan Chaffin: In your book [Moonshot!], you talk about your "Let's take a walk" walks with Steve Jobs. I would love to hear about your most memorable of your walks with him.

John Sculley: At one point, Steve was planning to build a house up on a hundred-acre site in Skyline, but he couldn't get approvals for it. Steve didn't like taking "no" for anything, so he was just absolutely convinced that he could get the government to turn around and let him take land that had been set aside not to be built on by anybody and he'd be able to build a house on it. That's Steve Jobs, right? He never took "no" as an answer.

So Steve and I would hike up there many times, just to Skyline, up to what's called Windy Hill. We would do this on Saturdays, and we'd look at the views. Steve loved the site because you could look across Windy Hill out to the Pacific Ocean, and you could look across the east all the way out to East Bay and down over the Stanford campus. He said this was his favorite place in the world. He just loved it out there, and that's why we hiked it so many times.

Whenever we traveled anywhere, we always shared a room together. Part of it was to show that Apple was frugal in those days, but the other part of it was camaraderie. I guess for most of a three year period of time, I spent more time with Steve than I did any other person.

The reality is that Steve didn't care much about friends. He didn't have time for friends. If anyone ever went to his house, they wouldn't have seen almost no furniture in his house. He just had a bed, a picture of Einstein, a picture of Mahatma Ghandi, a Tiffany lamp, and that was it. There wasn't anything else. And that was just fine with him. He had an apartment in New York that we would go to—a triplex that now belongs to Bono. There was no furniture in it. He went on for years without furniture in it. That was just Steve. He was a total minimalist, not interested in creature comforts at all.

Steve Jobs

Photo of Steve Jobs sitting in the home referenced above
Photo by Diana Walker

We never talked about money. They many times that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and I were together, there was never any discussion of how much money any of us were going to make, or how much money the companies were going to make.

The thing that surprised me probably more than anything else: here I came out of what was at the time the most competitive industry in the world. Ten years in the cola wars. I show up at Apple, and I remember a few months later in the Macintosh labs with Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, and Steve and Bill are talking about their "noble cause." Well, I'd never heard the term noble cause in business. I came out of a world where business is market share, where business was about beating the other person. But it was never about a noble cause.

Bill and Steve, who argued all the time, except on the noble cause. They both agreed the noble cause was to empower knowledge workers with tools for the mind—Steve called them "bicycles for the mind"—that they would enable individuals to have incredible productivity, and change the world one person at a time. They absolutely believed they were going to change the world.

For someone coming from the opposite side of the country who had never heard of Silicon Valley, and to listen to two young guys in their 20s talking about changing the world—nobody on the East Coast in Corporate America talked about changing the world. It's probably the deepest memory in those early days that I have.

Even to this day, Bryan, I'm still working when most people are retired. I do it not because I have to, I do it because I want to. And I do it because I have a noble cause. My noble cause is all around health care, because I believe that the politicians and the lobbyists have absolutely no chance of improving our health care system because they don't understand innovation. They don't understand how you can go in and completely rethink of doing something and fundamentally change how we deliver health care.

It has nothing to do with government policies and government subsidies and debating and compromising about which policies the government should follow. It has everything to do with how do we take an industry that missed the PC era, that missed the Internet, and how do we make sure it doesn't miss the cloud and Big Data—particularly analytics opportunities—that can fundamentally change the way health care is managed.

That's what really motivates me today, and I'd never be doing the things I'm doing now if it hadn't been those early conversations with Bill Gates and Steve Jobs going back to the early 1980s.

Next: Interview with John Sculley: Apple and Big Data, Drawing for Steve Jobs

Page 3 - Interview with John Sculley: Apple's DNA, Drawing for Steve, and Being Vilified



The full interview:

Timestamp: 33:29

BC: Do you use an iPhone as your daily driver?

JS: I love the iPhone. My favorite product is the new iPad Pro. It's not a particularly big seller, but the screen is great. I read my newspapers—anything I need to read, I read on the iPad Pro.

I draw...Steve couldn't draw, so he would have me do sketches of things. I could draw because I went to the Rhode Island School of Design—I went to the Graduate School of Architecture at Penn, too. So I love what you can do on an iPad Pro.

I love my iMacs. We have probably six iMacs between my wife Dianne and I. And we have all kinds of Apple products. Dianne has an Apple Watch, and she thinks it's beautiful. It just doesn't do anything that's particularly important in my life. Maybe some day it will. I don't question how beautifully it's designed, it just isn't a product that I thirst for like I did for an iPad Pro or an iMac.

Timestamp: 30:42

BC: Is Apple the anomaly in that Apple is the one company not trading on Big Data. Are their other chances for companies to do a moonshot without making us the product?

JS: You know, I don't know. I'm not connected with Apple, so I don't know what's going on in their thinking. Apple has, as you point out, not tried to build a business around data to the extent that other people have tried to build business around data.

Apple has stayed true to what Steve's vision was—he wanted to build really cool products. And Apple still builds really cool products without compromise in fit, finish, materials, and user experience, all those things, and I think that's what Apple does best.

Apple doesn't try to be the first at doing anything, they try to be best at whatever they do. And it gives Apple the chance to let other people be out on the bleeding edge on issues like, how do you deal with Data? Whether it's Facebook or Google or Amazon or any number of other companies that are much more aggressive in how they use data than Apple is.

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.

John Sculley

John Sculley in 2014
Source: Wikimedia

We used to say at Apple that we sell to the people who love us. So Apple has a huge respect for its customers, and it knows it's going to be held to a much higher standard by its customers than any other company is. I think they've been completely consistent with what Steve was interested in when he was alive. To focus on building products with no compromise, to focus on building amazing user experiences, but really not making a big strategy out of data.

So it's kind of ironic that the FBI decides to go after Apple, the one company that isn't trying to use data in some [of the] ways you suggest. And they go after Apple to give the FBI a back door into the iPhone. You can imagine the implications in China if Apple said we've given the FBI a back door into the iPhone.

Timestamp: 09:43

BC: Do you resent that the Mac faithful vilify you without taking into account how disruptive and unprofessional Steve could be at that time in his youth.

JS: You know, I really don't lose a lot of sleep over it. [chuckles] I was there. I know what happened. I know what didn't happen. Steve was imperfect. I was imperfect. It is what it is. My sense is that the Board could have played a much more proactive role, and there probably never needed to be a breakup between Steve and me.

You can listen to the full interview as a special episode of The Apple Context Machine.