Apple in the 80s and a local kid view on the Jobs-Sculley re-organization

In the wake of Jobs resigning (again – first in ’85), I decided to look back on Apples formative years to becoming a powerhouse.

So as I tweeted today: “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water, or do you want a chance to change the world?” http://bit.ly/r7dmMs #apple

I had a weird relationship with Apple in the 80s as somehow, a little podunk town in Maine was a bit involved in this Silicon Valley now behemoth.

Obviously, my Gen X was the target and I grew up on both DOS and Apple II (I know I will not win the IT nerd war with baby boomers on ENIACs and punch cards), but oddly enough, John Sculley summered in my tiny hometown in Maine which at the time was going through its empty factory phase. And when he became CEO at Apple, he became a legend of course.

I got into digital imagery in 1991 as he helped lure Kodak to build an imagery research center a stones throw from my high school. He, Kodak, and some of the Moms would hold school events near end of the year to promote or we got to visit and spend time with the researchers at this AMAZING facility. These plotters would be equivalent to what is still better in most offices or even Fedex today 20 years later. It was amazing, they had 500 MB on every computer and had HD monitors. And big designers would speak. I had not realized at the time, as I was an average unappreciative of opportunities teenager, but that is where I saw Edward Tufte first. I didn’t make the connection until recently that he was the same guy I went to see in Denver recently. I realized the root of why I hated hated powerpoint or slideware this long! At our school, of course we got Apple IIe’s upgraded to the black and white Macs very early, and I ate it all up. Flying Toasters were soon all the rage even before it went mainstream.

Sufficed to say, when you have local legends in a small town – which by the way, to re-engage the baby boomers, is where Peyton Place was based off, you know what I mean when we say we know the scuttlebutt about local celebrities.

Heck, the town had always been that way. Watson, the founder of IBM, summered there ; Much later, Bob Metcalfe co-inventor of Ethernet, founder 3Com, Palm, etc. lived there for a long while. Artists, etc. Then there were us local folk who lived through the cold winters, in the double-wides, tromping through frigid cold and snow. So, it wasn’t uncommon for the Apple inner workings to be hallway fodder as some of the townfolk got summer winds of his inner battles (friends tended to his yachts or landscaped, that old chestnut). I had observed, as much as a distracted teenager could, his career, ergo, executive mgmt, off and on since a young buck and as well as later followed Gates similarly. Yeah, I had normal posters of Jordan, Magic, Spud Webb, Manute Bol, and the Sox on my wall too just like any other kid. Point being, it was neat to be over 200 miles from a large city, over 60 miles from a highway, and still feel connected to the bigthink.

 

There were some great things Sculley did when he took over Apple and some really dumb things as I recalled how I thought of it back then. A Decade later, I read “Insanely Great” myopy of Apple, and of course reading it was a mix of inside track connecting and realizing how much I missed between the lines. For instance, I recall certain undertones about Jobs, but I didn’t get them until I realized how he treated people. At the time, I knew more about the Steve Jobs and Bill Gates side of the Microsoft and Apple battles. I find for my work career now, I actually find the Sculley and Jobs (or now Cook and Jobs) difference more enlightening. And yes, as I connected the dots, I grew to dislike “Jobs character”, while admire his forward thinking. 

Anyhow – All that nostalgia aside – WHY IS THIS relevant, and why would Federal Government or any Management Executive care?

  1. You can read about how the lack of vision once Jobs left on this focus really killed Apple. Apple was NEVER about out-engineering Microsoft, or now Google, but instead of outpacing embedding their products with less features and fit into their ecosystem.
  2. It was obvious even then Apple followed aspects of the Gillette model for getting in the door with a slight twist. Instead of giving the handle away and selling razor blades, they gave major discounts or even free to schools, and later kids would buy their own for home. Brilliant. That has been their bread and butter ever since. Get them on their ecosystem and you won’t mind the extortionist level mark-up as you have been trained on their quality, hip, and other brand qualities. Just like any product allegiance concepts.
  3. It was clear if you stayed ahead on form factors to make ecosystem adoption easy, then people would forgive the higher price, and thus you could play with a much higher profit margin, which means you could get away with lack of discipline on product development
  4. But, the issue was, once Jobs was out of the picture, and someone else had to make up with that lack of discipline, margins crumble,s they had to reel internally on recouping on bad product management lifecycle, decisions, and especially coordinating with engineering struggled. 
  5. What you see is by the 90s, Sculley “ran the company into the ground” is how its written from an epic story of emerging business management greatness and some of the biggest flops. Mis-released of the Newton as they didn’t understand timing of ecosystem adoption (way premature). 
  6. It was different than marketing a standing commodity like soda. That is where Jobs knew it. It was adapting to new forms and always designing to form over function. 

In all reality, maybe I am a sympathizer, I think he inherited a genius capitalist’s mess on the upswing, and as soon as marketshare dwindled, the emperor had no clothes, and Sculley was stuck dealing with the mess and was not setup with executive team to fight two situations – financials and innovation – at once. Cook began to hit that as well, but seems to have recovered (i.e. 12/2013 update: Apple maps: how Google lost when everyone thought it had won

So give the article a read, and consider how your organization tries to balance form over function and discipline design and management.

If you think worthy of fellow management executives, forward this on, and you can read about some of the management inner workings from Sculley’s angle (the side not being reported on, except that “he” fired Jobs). 

I read it again, and I was amazed at some of the parallels we’re going through right now in so many of our projects, perspective clients. It really is some fascinating soap opera lessons learned and insight for any executive.