Catching Up With John Sculley About His Book

on April 3, 2015
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Earlier this week, I had a call with John Sculley, the former CEO of Apple. I have known John since he joined Apple and, during his time there, had many conversations about his leadership role at Apple and the vision he had for moving the company forward. During his tenure at Apple, he drove sales from $800 million to $8 billion. In last week’s column, I wrote about one experience John and I had with Steve Jobs and his temper and mentioned how Apple led the way in desktop publishing and multimedia during his time at the company.

I have always found John a straight shooter and a fast learner. When he joined Apple from Pepsi and though he was not part of the techie crowd, he quickly grasped the nuances of the industry and began to shape his own vision that helped drive Apple’s role in the tech market forward. He was also smart enough to hire some of the top minds to help him think more about the future. A good example of this is when he made tech superstar Alan Kay an Apple Fellow and influential in the production of a very forward looking video called the Knowledge Navigator in 1987, a futuristic view of how we would deal with information in the future. Only now are we seeing some of the things portrayed on this video become a reality.

John probably does not know this but he kind of served as a mentor to me during the late 1980’s. Every time I would meet with him, he would have exceptional insight on the market and gave me hints on things to research that helped me land a lot of business in those days. One example was his view on desktop publishing and how he and his team pushed this concept into the mainstream of personal computing. Although I had written a report about the idea of people publishing documents on their desktops after I saw the Canon desktop laser engine in 1982, it took Sculley and his team to marry an Apple laser printer with Aldus’ Pagemaker at the end of 1984, making the Mac indispensable to graphics artists, advertising agencies and many in the publishing world who helped make desktop publishing a big hit in the mid-to-late 1980’s.

When John told me he was going to put CD-ROM drives in all Macs towards the end of 1980’s, he shared a clear vision of how CD-ROM’s would impact the world of publishing, education and information and was the first person I ever heard use the term multimedia-computing. When Dr. Martin Greenberger, Nick Arnett and I talked about doing a multimedia roundtable at UCLA in 1990, John and Apple became the lead sponsor of the event. Only 35 people were invited but it included Nicholas Negroponte of MIT’s media lab, Trip Hawkins who was running Electronic Arts at that time, Bob Lucky, the executive director of Bell labs, Stewart Brand of The Whole Earth Catalog fame and top leaders from the world of Hollywood, television and education to flush out the concept of multimedia computing and how it would impact all of the industries represented at the table. I still have the picture of these 35 leaders on the wall in our reception area and was extremely privileged to be among those who attended this roundtable at what is now considered a very historic event for all of these industries at that time. John’s vision helped drive even more business for me as I wrote some of the first reports on this subject and major companies from these industries brought me in to explain how the new use of multimedia computers could impact their individual markets.

The reason for our call was to discuss a new book John Sculley has written called “Moonshot! Game-Changing Strategies to Build Billion Dollar Businesses”. Here is a brief description of the book:

“The future belongs to those who see the possibilities before they become obvious… This is the most exciting time ever to be part of the business world.”

“Throughout history, there are some events that stand out as so groundbreaking that they completely change life as we know it. The Apollo moon landing of 1969 was one of those events—the invention of the Apple personal computer was another. The time is ripe for a new breed of innovative entrepreneurs to build businesses across industries that will bring in billions of dollars—while changing people’s lives for the better. In this book, John Sculley will show you how to do it.”

 

In the book, John says, “Every Moonshot begins with a noble cause; to invent new technology that can change the world, you have to find your noble cause, your mission.” 

Other moonshots he describes are things like Netscape’s browser and the internet, Google’s search engine as well as Facebook and social media that has changed the way people interact and communicate. All of these have had game-changing impact on our world and he shares in the book other key trends that may lead to significant new moonshots in the future. 

One area of particular interest to me is described in a chapter about the rise of the middle class around the world. As the book points out, John has been traveling the world for over 40 years and observed how people use and consume products and technologies.

He also has dug deep into the economic trends in many countries around the world and, like others, has seen the rise of a new kind of middle class because personal economic gains have moved from the lower end of the earnings spectrum into what would be defined as middle class in each of their countries. 

In our conversation, he said he sees close to two billion people beginning to move up into newly the defined middle class and they will want to buy things that are as good as the upper end of the market but at much lower prices. They will also buy these products in ways we are not accustomed to today.

He believes mobile payments will be a main source of how they purchase and sees giving them a great customer experience as a key for success in serving this new rising middle class. One of his companies, OBiMobile, is making smartphones to sell in India, the Middle East and parts of Africa and start as low as $79 and go as high as $199. Their goal is to create products that are of high quality yet at price points the new middle class can afford and adopt in large numbers. 

I bought up what I consider another moonshot opportunity that involves bringing close to two billion more people on to the internet over the next five to seven years. This group desperately wants to participate in the connected community but is at the bottom end of the earning spectrum. A smartphone for them probably can’t cost more than $50-$75. Yet, they want to use them to help run their farms, communicate with the family and friends, and, when possible, even use them to purchase things they need or want via their smartphone. 

Supplying products and services for both of these groups will need moonshots of their own if they are going to partake of the value a connected world affords them.

I found Dell Yocum’s short review of the book especially good. Mr. Yokum was one of John’s lieutenants when he was at Apple and an industry pioneer in Silicon Valley.

“John Sculley’s insightful book explains “the convergence of exponentially expanding technologies (cloud computing, wireless sensors, mobile devices and Big Data)” that can and will allow you, the customer, to be in control…… And John gives plenty of examples that allow all of us to understand each of these technologies and learn how to integrate each of them into our thinking.

John believes that these technologies will help shift power from the “producer-in-control” to the “customer-in-control”. He shows us (entrepreneurs and business executives alike) how to use these technologies to build successful businesses, not only within the U.S., but in global emerging markets as well (and especially within the emerging middle classes in those markets). He presents “game-changing” strategies that will influence not only your thinking; but, I believe, your future actions.”

 

John also explains what happened during his time at Apple and how it ended. The story of how the board wanted to clone the Mac vs John’s insistence to keep it proprietary is what forced him out and we all know the move to clone the Mac nearly destroyed Apple. I was close to what was happening inside Apple then and watched in horror and amazement at the Apple board’s decision to clone the Mac and just make it another PC in a market where clone makers by then were falling by the wayside.

As I read the book, I felt as if I was back at the time John and I would talk while he was at Apple and he was giving me new thoughts and insight about the market and trends he saw that would be driving our tech world forward. As many reviewers state, this book is full of great information about tech and economic trends and business practices happening around the world and how to think about creating “game-changing strategies for creating billion dollar businesses.”