John Sculley on Steve Jobs

Sculley was CEO of Pepsi-Cola when Jobs recruited him to be Apple’s CEO in 1983. He fired Jobs two years later

December 1982. A pirate’s flag flew over Bandley II, the Cupertino home to Steve Jobs’s Macintosh team. In preparation for my visit, Steve had told his team that I was president of Pepsi and they should give me a really cool demo because I could become a big customer. The Mac was only a small motherboard with wires running to a makeshift power supply and another bundle of colored wires leading to a 10-inch cathode ray tube balanced on a bench top. To impress me, Andy Hertzfeld, one of Steve’s brightest software engineers, had created a simple animation of dancing Pepsi cans on the screen. I didn’t know enough at the time to appreciate how revolutionary this computer animation was.

The fully developed Mac was still more than a year away from its birth as a commercial product. Steve’s small Mac team averaged only 22 years of age, and Steve himself had just recently turned 27. Even the iconic Mac 128k case that would resemble a 1950s television set hadn’t yet been designed.

But in Steve’s mind there wasn’t the slightest doubt: Mac was destined to change the world, and it would be the most “insanely great” product ever! He called it a bicycle for the mind. The world would know it as pure magic.

Steve was always Apple’s visionary. When I first joined Apple, my priority was to squeeze three more years of cash flow out of the near-end-of-life Apple II so Steve would have enough cash runway to create and launch the Mac.

So began an incredible friendship and partnership that was to last only until the spring of 1985. Now, many decades later, I replay in my mind our times together. I am still learning lessons from Steve Jobs. The advances in technology over these years are extraordinary, but Steve wasn’t an engineer. As an artist he barely drew anything recognizable on his white board. But as a master impresario, the clarity and brilliance of his creations was genius. Steve would say, “I have this really incredible product inside me, and I have to get it out.” One time, Steve and I sat in Dr. [Edwin] Land’s conference room at his office on the Charles River that he used after he was fired from Polaroid. I sat there listening while these two geniuses discussed where great inventions come from. Pointing toward the center of the empty conference table, Dr. Land said, “I didn’t invent the Polaroid camera, it’s always existed, just waiting to be discovered.” Steve replied, “That’s right. I knew long before we built it exactly what the Mac was. It always existed. I never had to ask customers what they wanted. If it’s something truly revolutionary, they won’t be able to help you.” All of Steve’s visionary products have always existed, they were just waiting for him to discover them.

Steve recruited me because he believed the Mac would be such a life-empowering tool for the mind that Apple needed to prepare to sell Macs in the millions. No one else in Silicon Valley knew or cared anything about advertising. But Steve Jobs cared a lot. He believed the Mac deserved the very best entertainment experience advertising campaign ever. He was inspired by Pepsi Generation and Pepsi Challenge and believed that a world-changing product deserved a world-class brand campaign.

Steve’s “first principles” from those early days never changed. Steve would say the hardest decisions are what to leave out, not what to put in. He was the ultimate systems designer. Always simplifying. Everything began and ended with the user experience. Simplify the steps. “Look, we can do it in three steps. … Not good enough, do it in one step.” Simplify, simplify, simplify. Sound familiar? This was Steve Jobs in 1983!

In the early 1980s software code was admired as a work of art. Steve only recruited the best code designers in the world. No bozos. Ever. It was always about design. It was also always about taste. Steve’s taste, that is, as he controlled every design decision even while by his side was the world’s greatest industrial designer, Jonathan Ive.

We spent hours together often just walking around. Sometimes it was the Apple campus, other times it was walks in the hills up at Sky Line. Steve loved to talk through an idea. I remember him saying, “Great companies must have a noble cause. Then it’s the leader’s job to transform that noble cause into such an inspiring vision that it will attract the most talented people in the world to want to join it.”

When Steve Jobs resigned as CEO, I e-mailed him a message: “Steve, I owe you a lot. Because you cared so much, the universe is a little bit different. You did it with taste, design, addictive user experience, and no-compromise products that make all of us smile. —John.”

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE