There is nothing like going down in history as the guy who fired Steve Jobs. In an 1983 recruitment pitch that went on to become legendary, Steve Jobs lured John Sculley away from ‘selling sugar water’ as president of PepsiCo to leading Apple as their CEO.
By 1985, the dynamic duo became entirely more dynamic and entirely less of a duo when Sculley forced Jobs away from being the head of Macintosh and into the position of being Apple’s chairman, stripping him of any product responsibility. The Board of Directors supported and empowered this move, issuing statements to the press at the time indicating “We have put our individual egos aside and are putting teamwork in place.” Jobs had seemingly spiraled out of control with his vision taking a backseat to his unreasonable demands.
We all know how the story goes. Not more than a few months later, Jobs resigned and founded NeXT (taking 5 Apple executive with him) only to return to Apple 12 years later on a technology themed mission of mercy.
Before Sculley began, the joke had been that Apple was not unlike a Boy Scout Troup, except that Boy Scouts have adult supervision. Sculley was intended to become that adult and was charged with turning that group of boys into businessmen. And in many ways he did until his own firing in 1993 following a series of bad decisions that left Apple’s stock eroded and product sales as virtually non-existent.
In a recent interview with FINS, Sculley speaks about Jobs with the utmost respect and courtesy. He expresses regret for having to fire a man that he thought of as his good friend. In hindsight he wishes he had worked with Jobs and said to him “This is your company, let’s figure out how you can come back and be CEO.” His expectation upon joining Apple was that the two would work as a team, with his business sense guiding the visionary Jobs to shared success.
He still describes Jobs as a visionary, and takes a moment to describe this type of CEO, by saying that “Visionary CEOs are also optimists, they have incredible curiosity. They never give up. If they fail, they try to learn from the experience and start again.”
Though Sculley has tried to reach out to Jobs on several occasions in the past 25 years, the two haven’t spoken.
If you ask me, I think it shows a lot of character and class that he hasn’t used the words ‘tantrum’ or ‘pity party’ once when discussing the subject.
John Sculley, now 72, is currently a partner at Sculley Brothers, LLC and resides in Palm Beach, Florida.
Is anybody else as curious as I am to read how this experience will be described by Jobs in his upcoming Walter Isaacson authored biography? What would have happened to Apple if Jobs had remained?