Sun's McNealy, Zander riff on 1995 buyout attempt for Apple

Recalling Sun's heyday in the mid-'90s, former CEOs Scott McNealy and Ed Zander waxed nostalgic about the time they almost bought Apple Computer.
Written by David Morgenstern, Contributor

Recalling Sun's heyday in the mid-'90s, former CEOs Scott McNealy and Ed Zander waxed nostalgic about the time they almost bought Apple Computer.

In an interesting eWEEK story about a dinner talk given by the two executives, the pair discuss memories about the time in 1995 and 1996 when the Silcon Valley was abuzz with rumors of an impending buyout. According to Zander, Sun was just "hours away" from a deal.

“Honest to gosh, I was at an analysts' meeting in San Diego on a Tuesday morning and was getting ready to announce that we were going to buy Apple.  I don't know what we were going to do with it, but we were going to buy it. (Apple) had no CEO at the time, Steve (Jobs) wasn't there, but we didn't get it. Why didn't we buy it?"

"We wanted to do it," McNealy said. "There was an investment banker on the Apple side, an absolute disaster, and he basically blocked it. He put so many terms into the deal that we couldn't afford to go do it."

"Just think, that if that night had been different, I don't know what would have happened," Zander said.

As he has on other occasions, McNealy said that if Sun had bought Apple there wouldn't have been iPods or iPads. "I'd have screwed that up," he said.

No doubt. Few saw what the Internet would become back then. The iPad was almost science fiction.

Check Out: Takeover Fever: The Apple-Sun saga

At the time, I was a reporter at MacWEEK, the industry's only Mac-centric news source. Our reporting at the time saw things a bit differently. Here's  the reporting from the January 29, 1996 issue:

However, MacWEEK has learned that, as of press time, Apple and Sun are not close to signing a deal, much less setting a price for the stock. In fact, despite published reports, even relatively simple matters, such as which parts of Apple’s business Sun would be interested in acquiring, have not been settled. Sources close to the company said Apple is continuing discussions with several suitors and potential strategic partners and that no option, including remaining independent, has been excluded.

A former Apple executive said top management had been overly confident that a deal with Sun was at hand and failed to develop a complete restructuring program in case the deal fell through by the end of 1995.

Apple’s $69 million loss last quarter set back the Sun negotiations, and Apple had to scramble to restructure, sources said. The result was an incomplete plan.

I am sure that Zander is correct in his recollection. He thought at the time that Sun would prevail. Apple was down and everyone thought they were out for the count. Dead. Of course, Sun would bring the Macintosh into the fold.

At the same time, I've met many executives who thought that a deal was done when it wasn't, especially when negotiating with Apple. Something that appeared simple was instead very complex. And until the ink was dry enough to fax, it wasn't done.

And as McNealy suggests, we can all be thankful that the deal fell through.

I've written about the history of various Apple-Sun buyout rumors (three in all). Here's the story...

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