Today in Apple history: John Sculley starts work as Apple CEO

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john-sculley
John Sculley was Apple's third president and CEO.
Photo: Web Summit/Flickr CC

May17May 17, 1983: John Sculley starts work at Apple as its third president and CEO, following Mike Scott and Mike Markkula.

As the former boss of Pepsi-Cola, Sculley is lured to Apple by Steve Jobs, who uses one of the most famous lines in the history business: “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?”

A strong start

John Sculley joined Apple with virtually no knowledge of the tech industry. What he did know was how to sell products, and particularly how to sell them as being part of an aspirational lifestyle. He had done this at Pepsi, where he helped create the “Pepsi generation” ads that transformed the soft drink from being a low-end Coke ripoff to something altogether better.

To persuade Sculley to leave his $500,000-per-year job at Pepsi, Apple agreed to pay him $1 million per year, with half coming in salary and half in the form of a bonus. He also got a $1 million signing bonus, $1 million golden parachute clause in his contract, 350,000 AAPL shares, and money to buy an equivalent house in California to the one he previously lived in in Connecticut.

06At Apple, the idea was that he would run the company alongside Steve Jobs, who was then Chairman of the company. Jobs and Apple’s engineers would take care of the cutting-edge technology, while Sculley would use his marketing expertise to legitimize Apple.

At first, everything went well for Sculley. Shortly after arriving at Apple, he brought back Steve Wozniak, who was enjoying some time away from Apple. Woz began work on getting the mouse to work on the in-development Apple IIc.

Mayday!

May turned out to be a very significant month in Sculley’s history. In May 1985, two years after he arrived at Apple, he carried out a major company-wide reorganization of Apple. This involved stripping Jobs of his role running the Mac division, and instead made him head of “New Product Development.” The move wound up being the first stage in Jobs’ 1985 departure from Apple.

A couple of years later, in May 1987, Sculley was named Silicon Valley’s top-paid executive, with his annual salary by this point reaching $2.2 million. Finally, in May 1993, Sculley stepped down as CEO — a decade after taking the position. When he quit as CEO, Apple had $2 billion in cash, and $200 million in debt.

Do you remember John Sculley’s reign at Apple? Leave your comments below.

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  • bIg hIlL

    But did Sculley change the world? Perhaps not.

  • TrueNorth_Steve✓ᴰᴱᴾᴸᴼᴿᴬᴮᴸᴱ

    i remember apple wanted to buy BeOS as well..

  • Furutan

    Jobs’ greatest mistake. Scully later admitted that doing the number on Jobs was his greatest mistake.
    Along with his other missteps, introducing Apple to the world of brain-dead marketing was definitely huge – taking the Mac from superior marketshare with Windows to kicking the Mac to the curb. (While MS DOS numbers were always high, Windows did not pull past the Mac until 1992; this thanks to Windows 3.1.
    Apple should have taken a page from Guy Kawasaki and his MacEvangelist movement.
    Under Scully, the Mac was buried in an avalanche of PC / Intel / Windows commercials while Scully marketed to existing Mac users and to education. His successors were just as useless.
    People say that Steve Jobs saved Apple. If it hadn’t been for Gil Amelio (and Jobs’ selfless and heroic act of throwing Amelio on the hand grenade), that never would have happened.