In 1982, Steve Jobs asked John Sculley, the president of Pepsi at the time, to become Apple’s chief executive.
Because Apple wasn’t the well-known company is it today, Sculley was hesitant to accept. So he played hard-to-get.
Jobs, not usually one to beg, was finally able to convince the successful Pepsi exec to come to Apple by asking the now-famous question: “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water, or do you want a chance to change the world?”
Sculley says in Walter Isaacson’s book, “Steve Jobs,” that he was stunned by Jobs’ brutal honesty and felt he had no choice but to accept. So, he took on the chief executive title in 1983 at age 44.
At first, he and Jobs were nearly inseparable. The two had an “amazing partnership.” They would talk dozens of times a day and even completed each other’s sentences, Isaacson writes. But once the “honeymoon stage” was over, conflict set in, and Jobs tried to oust the man he had worked so hard to recruit. However, it was Jobs who was ultimately pushed out by Sculley in 1985.
Seven years later, Sculley was gone, too. He resigned in 1993 “amid a personal-computer price war and internal tension over the company’s direction,” the Chicago Tribune reported. (Jobs would later return to Apple after Sculley was out.)
Today, people remain critical of his decision to oust Jobs, as well as his management skills displayed at Apple during his tenure, which seems to follow him no matter how many successful startups he’s involved in today.
Looking back on this bumpy time in his career, Sculley says he wishes he could go back and tell his 44-year-old self one thing: Be a better listener and know there isn’t just one right way to do things.
During the 80s and early 90s when he was at Apple, Sculley said employees didn’t have a lot of respect for formal titles so they would make up their own. Even though he was officially CEO, Sculley’s business card read, “Chief Listener.”
But he regrets not taking that title more seriously.
“I now know how important it is to have an open mind and be respectful of the fact that there’s more than one way to think about a problem or solution,” he says. But he didn’t truly understand that until at least five years in to his reign at Apple — after his one-time friend Jobs was already gone.
Perhaps if he had really, truly listened and been more open to Jobs’ creativity and ideas, there wouldn’t have been so much conflict.
Sculley says to be successful in life, “you’ve got to be a good listener, you’ve got to be open-minded, and see things from different perspectives. And you’ve got to have curiosity.”
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