Apple's ex-CEO on what drives Steve Jobs and how a superbrand was built

Summary:Interview: John Sculley on the early years of Apple and the tablet Cupertino was working on 20 years before the iPad...

Interview: John Sculley on the early years of Apple and the tablet Cupertino was working on 20 years before the iPad...

Original Apple Mac

John Sculley said Steve Jobs wanted to make personal computing easy with the MacPhoto: Accretion Disc

John Sculley was famously tempted to leave PepsiCo and become Apple CEO after Steve Jobs asked him, "Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life or do you want to come with me and change the world?".

Sculley took the job in 1983, and while he may not have changed the world during his 10 years at the helm, he certainly shook Apple to its core.

Just a couple of years after Sculley joined the company, Jobs was fired from Apple, leaving Sculley in charge.

Under Sculley, Apple diversified its desktop PC range and moved into the laptop computer market. However, Sculley's time with Apple was marked by a number of overly ambitious R&D projects with runaway costs, such as developing the never-released Aquarius quad-core CPU and the Apple Newton PDA, and in 1993, the Apple board replaced Sculley on the back of falling profits.

In spite of Jobs' departure soon after Sculley joined, Sculley's enduring memory about his time with Apple is of Jobs' laser focus on design - the desire to cull clutter from interfaces and make Apple technology easy to use - as the company was getting ready to launch the first Apple Mac in 1984.

"Everything that was significant in Apple when I was there was really defined by Steve Jobs," he told during a recent trip to London to speak during the Hult Education Talks, hosted by Hult International Business School.

Rather than looking to electronic products for the Apple aesthetic, Sculley recalls Jobs seeking to match the quality craftmanship of fine jewellery and the fit and finish of luxury cars.

From the sleek lines of the computer hardware through to the intuitive nature of the software, Sculley said Jobs believed in "controlling the experience end to end, so there would be no compromises".

"Steve's view was that you could make the personal computer incredibly simple to use," he said.

The singular focus on elegance and simplicity of design are the same ideals at the heart of the look and feel of the iPhone and the iPad today, Sculley said.

"You can see those same first principles that Steve created back in the early days of the Mac and the early days of desktop publishing are clearly those same first principles that are relevant [to Apple] today."

Selling the dream

As much as Apple's devices have won people over with their looks and simplicity, the company also owes much of its success to how it uses advertising.

Few firms inspire the same slavish devotion as Apple, which by marketing its devices as being in a class of their own has established itself as the ultimate aspirational brand.

The roots of the bold marketing strategy that led to today's Mac vs PC and "magical" iPad ads lie in the 1980s, when Sculley arrived at Apple from PepsiCo.

Jobs wanted Sculley to teach Apple the secrets of the success he had had as president of PepsiCo, where the Pepsi Challenge adverts he had masterminded had eroded Coca-Cola's sales lead over Pepsi.

"The reason I was recruited to Apple was that Steve believed that high technology [products], in this case PCs, were going to have to learn how to sell themselves the way that soft drinks sold themselves, and he was an admirer of what Pepsi had done to compete against Coke.

"I said to Steve at the time, 'Don't focus on the product, focus on the experience', which was everything that we did to build the Pepsi generation," he said.

Apple's first advert to sell the "experience" was the...

Topics: Hardware


Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic UK. He writes about the technology that IT-decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

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