Ex-Apple boss Sculley sets record straight on Jobs
- 8 March 2012
- From the section Technology
Apple's former chief executive John Sculley is perhaps best known as the man who first mentored and then clashed with Steve Jobs, leading to the late co-founder's exit from the firm in 1985.
Mr Sculley was ultimately forced out himself by Apple's board in 1993. Since then he been an active investor and director in several tech companies including Audax Health.
He attended this year's Consumer Electronics Show to promote the firm's Careverge healthcare social network and its young chief executive who he now advises.
"Because of his experience at Apple and Pepsi he has been able to help me as a founding CEO... he has been fundamentally critical to changing the business and we've built a fantastic relationship as a result of it," Audax's founder Grant Verstandig says.
According to Steve Jobs' biographer, Walter Isaacson, Mr Sculley and Mr Jobs' relationship also started off well.
But as the book makes clear neither man emerged untarnished from their subsequent falling out - something the BBC put to Mr Sculley.
You haven't read the biography - but you have discussed it with people who have. Some people have said neither you nor Mr Jobs come out particularly well from the book - do you have concerns about it?
I haven't really thought about it too much because I know what went on back in the 1980s because I was there.
It's ironic that neither Steve Jobs nor I have read the book but I've seen interviews that Walter Isaacson has given and they seem to be very credible.
I think he captured Steve in the really good greatness of him, and from what I've heard from people who have read the book Walter Isaacson cleared up some of the myths - that I never really did fire Steve Jobs and that Apple was actually a very profitable company.
When I left Apple it had $2bn (£1.3bn) of cash.
It was the most profitable computer company in the world - not just personal computers - and Apple was the number one selling computer. So the myth that I fired Steve wasn't true and the myth that I destroyed Apple, that wasn't true either.
A lot of things happened after I left before Steve came back.
From reading the book there is a sense that when Steve Jobs spoke to you he would say everything you wanted to hear, but then behind your back he was highly critical of you. To what extent was he difficult to manage?
I think Steve and I had a terrific relationship when things were going well. He was really interested in consumer marketing because he believed that the future of the personal computing industry was about marketing computers the way we marketed big brand consumer products - Pepsi and Coke.
I was brought to Apple not because I knew anything about computers - building them - but because the company had to keep the Apple II commercially alive, it was near end of life, for three more years to generate enough cash so that Steve could build the Macintosh and have time to do that and launch the Mac successfully.
So during that time Steve and I got along great.
When the Macintosh Office was introduced in 1985 and failed Steve went into a very deep funk. He was depressed, and he and I had a major disagreement where he wanted to cut the price of the Macintosh and I wanted to focus on the Apple II because we were a public company.
We had to have the profits of the Apple II and we couldn't afford to cut the price of the Macintosh because we needed the profits from the Apple II to show our earnings - not just to cover the Mac's problems.
That's what led to the disagreement and the showdown between me and Steve and eventually the board investigated it and agreed that my position was the one they wanted to support.
Ironically it was all about Moore's law and it wasn't about Steve and me. Computers just weren't powerful enough in 1985 to do the very rigorous graphics that you had to be able to do for laser printing, and ironically it was only 18 months later when computers were powerful enough that we renamed the Mac Office, Desktop Publishing and it became wildly successful.
It wasn't my idea, it was all Steve's stuff, but he was just a year and a half too early.
Walking around CES it's apparent that smartphones and tablets are everywhere. You pioneered Apple's Newton handheld which was later killed off by Mr Jobs after his return. What do make if that decision now?
Well the facts are that we had to create a new microprocessor for the Newton as there was no low-powered microprocessor that could handle object orientated programming.
So when we were creating Newton we also co-founded a company called Arm.
Apple owned 47% of it, Olivetti owned 47% and the founder Hermann Hauser owned the rest.
Arm not only was the key technology behind the Newton but it eventually became the key technology behind every mobile device in the world today including the iPhone and the iPad.
The Newton was clearly much too ambitious just like Steve's Macintosh Office was a year and a half too early.
Newton was probably 15 years too early. I'm not a technologist. I didn't have the experience to make that judgment but we were I think right on many of the concepts.
The product clearly failed in terms of taking on such an ambitious goal. I think in hindsight there is a lot of good legacy there with the Newton.
Even if the product itself never survived the technology did.
Despite your problems in Apple you have remained active in the tech sector. Why do you remain so attached to it?
I never claimed to be a computer engineer, but I did train as an industrial designer and I am a consumer marketer and I am very comfortable dealing with complex businesses and complexity in general and simplifying it - basically a systems designer.
So what intrigues me about the businesses that I have invested in over the years is always about there has to be a better way of doing something and using technology as the game changer.
The area I am particularly excited about now is healthcare. Healthcare has been the last major industry that hasn't been touched by technology in terms of productivity and consumer adoption in the way so many other industries have.
While I'm not bringing any technology experience to the healthcare industry, I do see some similarities between what I was asked to do when I came to Apple, which was to bring big brand consumer marketing to Apple and carry it over to the whole Silicon Valley industry - because everybody does that today - well that same opportunity exists today in healthcare.
Health innovation enabled by digital technologies to build big consumer service brands, is an incredibly interesting complex problem to work on.
Audax is really the first social health company and it's focused on consumer engagement in the healthcare space bringing in a lot of the social media technologies and experiences that have been learned from companies like Facebook and Zynga and others.
When I started working with Steve Jobs and Bill Gates they were 27 years old. Grant Verstandig, the founder and CEO of Audax health solutions, is 23 year old. And it couldn't be done by somebody my age. It has to be someone who has grown up and understands and whose brain is wired differently to mine.
How much have you invested in this project?
I can say it's over $1m, so I look at this as a significant investment and I am actively involved as an advisor. In my experience there is a very thin line between success and the failure of almost any company. So what a mentor can do is to be an advisor and help the CEO have higher odds of being on the success side of the line than the failure.
Apple is not at CES. But many of the keynotes have centred around the launch of new Smart TVs and the innovations behind them. Do you have any thoughts about how Apple should fit into this sector?
I remember that Walter Isaacson said that Steve told him before he died that he had figured the problem out of how to do a great TV experience.
I think that Apple has revolutionised every other consumer industry, why not television?
I think that televisions are unnecessarily complex. The irony is that as the pictures get better and the choice of content gets broader, that the complexity of the experience of using the television gets more and more complicated.
So it seems exactly the sort of problem that if anyone is going to change the experience of what the first principles are, it is going to be Apple.