The man who brought CEO John Sculley to Apple dies aged 87


Bringing John Sculley (pictured) to Apple was a career highlight.
Photo: Web Summit/Flickr CC

You probably don’t know the name Gerry Roche, but he was heavily involved in one of the most significant events in Apple history.

Roche, who died over the weekend at the age of 87, was the executive recruiter who brought John Sculley from PepsiCo to Apple in the early 1980s. Sculley wound up overseeing a massive boom in Apple’s business, the launch of the Macintosh, and — perhaps most memorably — the departure of Steve Jobs.

Recruiting Sculley to join Apple is often credited to Steve Jobs. In fact, Jobs persuaded Sculley with one of the most memorable lines in recruitment history: “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water, or do you want a chance to change the world?”

Changing the nature of recruitment

But finding Sculley in the first place was down to the charismatic Roche. Not too many headhunters get profiled in the New York Times, but Roche was among them. One 1987 article, with the brilliant title “CEOs are his nectar,” describes how Roche and his fellow executive recruiters helped to pioneer cross-industry appointments.

This was markedly different from the previous “promote from within” ethos. It upset some of the more old school executives, who saw it as serving an upwardly mobile class of executives with little previous connection to the industry they were joining.

This description summed up John Sculley. He entered the company with plenty of marketing expertise, but little knowledge of the tech industry. It is therefore not all that surprising that Sculley was quoted in the 1987 New York Times article, opining that:

“With the kind of restructuring going on in American industry, headhunters [like Roche] play an important role. If something goes wrong with a placement, don’t blame the headhunter, blame the management and the board that hired the guy.”

(Interestingly, after Jobs was forced out of Apple following a clash with Sculley, he used almost exactly these words: telling an interviewer that he, “hired the wrong guy.”)

Helping broker major deals

Having made the connection between Apple and Sculley, Roche helped to broker a lucrative deal for the latter: $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, a $1 million golden parachute clause in his contract, 350,000 AAPL shares, and money to buy a house in California equivalent to his Connecticut home.

Gerry Roche passed away on Saturday at his home in Hobe Sound, Florida. You can read more about his career — which involved placing more than 200 CEOs in hundreds of American corporations and organizations — in this Wall Street Journal obituary.