John Sculley is the former CEO of Pepsi and Apple. When he was at Pepsi, he climbed the corporate ladder quickly. He started in an entry-level position that included driving Pepsi’s delivery trucks and posting signage in 100+ degree heat.
He rose to become Pepsi’s CEO ten years later. Then he got poached by Steve Jobs to run Apple.
Sculley explained how he grew his role so rapidly at the soft drink giant, and gave advice for how others can advance at their companies on an episode of Business Insider’s podcast, “Success! How I Did It.”
He says he was:
- Insatiably curious
- Always looking to solve problems and figure out better ways to do things
- Creative and a great marketer — his team helped create the first-ever 2-litre bottle of soda, and he helped coin the “Pepsi Challenge” marketing campaign that launched the 1970s “Cola Wars.”
- Up for anything — he moved all over the country on job assignments for Pepsi. Wherever the company needed him, he went.
“You have to have an inquiring mind,” Sculley said. “You have to say, ‘There must be a better way to do things, and now with technology at a point where everything is possible, how do we turn the possible into the probable?’ And it all starts with a passion to do something really well, to solve a problem in a way that’s never been solved before, and to have just an incredible work ethic, to be persistent.”
Here’s the podcast episode about Sculley’s career as a Fortune 500 CEO, below:
- Angel investor Jason Calacanis
- Former Microsoft CEO and Clippers owner Steve Ballmer
- Box founder and CEO Aaron Levie
- Robinhood founder and CEO Vlad Tenev
Here’s a transcript of the part of the podcast where Sculley talks about his career rise from driving trucks at Pepsi to CEO.
Shontell: Talk about your first job at Pepsi and what it was like.
Sculley: I was the first MBA and they didn’t know what to do with me, so they put me out in Pittsburgh, in a bottling plant, and I worked in the bottling lines, and then I was sent on to Phoenix, Arizona, where I also drove trucks and I put up signs, Pepsi signage, in various neighbourhoods in 120-degree heat and I was then sent on to Las Vegas for a month of training, and then I finally ended up in Milwaukee. So I got a really hands-on introduction to the soft-drink industry. I was so appreciative of the fact that I was able to not only learn a business through what I learned at business school, but I was able to learn it with hands-on learning. I’m a huge believer in hands-on learning.
Shontell: So you drove the Pepsi delivery trucks?
Sculley: I did, yeah.
Shontell: So from there all the way on up to CEO.
Sculley: I learned some amazing things, and I’ll give you a perfect example of it. I was appointed marketing VP when I was just turning 30 years old and the first assignment I was given was to design a bottle that could compete with the little 6.5-ounce returnable bottle that Coke had that was a classic design. And we thought about that and we said, so why are we trying to design another little glass bottle? We make our money selling liquid ounces — why not design a really big bottle? And out of that came the development work of the first plastic bottle, the first 2-litre plastic bottle, and Pepsi brought that to market several years before Coca-Cola. It was a huge thing for us because, at the time I became marketing VP, we were outsold by Coke in the US, 10 to 1, in 50% of the country, so we were really a regional brand, and when we came out with the 2-litre plastic bottle, it completely changed the way in which soft drinks were merchandised. Because I was a designer, I designed the merchandising equipment and all the various things around it to help introduce the 2-litre bottle, and then we followed that on with the Pepsi Challenge.
Shontell: You hopped around all over the country for Pepsi and you were the youngest VP in Pepsi by age 30, eventually became its CEO within 10 years of being there. What do you think are the most important things you did during that first 10 years to take you from driving trucks to becoming CEO of the whole thing?
Sculley: I was always insatiably curious. I still am. I kept observing — when I was working in bottling plants, resetting shelves in supermarkets, out on the trade, talking to other Pepsi bottlers, observing, thinking, asking questions, you know. Why is it done this way? I think that, while I didn’t know what the word “entrepreneur” was at that time, it’s exactly the characteristics that I look for when I’m looking for really good entrepreneurs to lead companies because you have to have an inquiring mind, you have to say there must be a better way to do things, and now with technology at a point where everything is possible, how do we turn the possible into the probable? And it all starts with a passion to do something really well, to solve a problem in a way that’s never been solved before, and to have just an incredible work ethic, to be persistent.