Today in Apple history: John Sculley steps down as Apple CEO

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Former Apple CEO John Sculley talks at Web Summit 2015 in Dublin, Ireland.
John Sculley ran Apple for a decade.
Photo: Web Summit/Flickr CC

June 18 Today in Apple history June 18, 1993: John Sculley steps down as CEO after a 10-year run at Apple.

Sculley is asked to leave by the Apple board after AAPL shares collapse from a high of $4.33 in 1992 to 73 cents the following year. He hands over the CEO role to Michael Spindler before briefly taking the role of Apple chairman, prior to departing altogether.

From selling sugar water to changing the world

Sculley joined Apple in May 1983 as its third president and CEO, following Mike Scott and Mike Markkula. He was lured to Apple by Steve Jobs using one of the most famous lines in business history. “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugar water or do you want a chance to change the world?” Jobs asked Sculley.

While Jobs and Sculley initially planned to work side by side, tensions quickly flared between the two. The result was that Jobs was forced out of Apple after attempting a boardroom coup in 1985.

Despite that legacy looming over him, Sculley was initially successful at Apple. The personal computer industry was growing rapidly, and he possessed the business chops to make sure Apple was part of it. Over his decade at Apple, he increased sales from $800 million to $8 billion. He also oversaw the launch of some brilliant products, such as the enormously successful PowerBook 100 series of laptops.

He also oversaw development of the Apple Newton, an ahead-of-its-time mobile device that launched later in 1993. The Newton flopped initially, and never became a sales juggernaut. However, it is now rightly viewed as a crucial stop on the road to the iPhone.

John Sculley’s departure from Apple

A few things led to Sculley’s departure. He wanted to move back to the East Coast, and considered taking the role of CEO at IBM. He was also heavily involved in politics, supporting Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign. From the perspective of Apple’s board, he was too involved with the Newton, at a time when Apple was facing increased competition from rivals.

After Sculley stepped down, the Apple CEO role was handed over to Michael Spindler, formerly the company’s COO. Sculley remained Apple chairman until October 1993, departing with a golden parachute of around $10 million. He went on to join Spectrum as chairman and CEO.

P.S. Want more on this period of Apple history? Check out my 2016 interview with John Sculley for Cult of Mac.