In The Wake Of Jobs Resigning (Again – First In ’85), I Decided To Look Back On Apple’s Formative Years To Becoming A Powerhouse

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?” #apple

I Had A Weird Relationship With Apple In The 80s. Somehow, A Little Podunk Town In Maine Was A Bit Involved In This Silicon Valley Now Behemoth

I grew up on both DOS and Apple II. It’s not like I had a preference, picked a side, whatever you wanted to call it. 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.

I got into digital imagery in 1991 while John Sculley helped lure Kodak to build an imagery research center a stone’s throw from my high school. He, Kodak, and some of the moms in town would hold school events near end of the year to promote. Other times, we got to visit and spend time with the researchers at this AMAZING facility. And it was amazing, they had 500 MB (big at the time) on every computer and had HD monitors. Big-name 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 I saw him in Denver. Anyway, at our school, we got Apple II’s upgraded to the black and white Macs very early. I ate it all up. Flying Toasters were soon all the rage even before it went mainstream.

Suffice 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, and founder of 3Com, Palm, etc. lived there for a long while. 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 townsfolk got summer winds of his inner battles.

I had observed, as much as a distracted teenager could, his career, ergo, executive management, on and off since I was a young buck and later followed Gates similarly. 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 also neat to be over 200 miles from a large city, over 60 miles from a highway, and still feel connected to the big thinktank.

That Being Said…

In spite of how I may sound, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. Sculley did some great things when he took over Apple and some really dumb things too. I realized this while recalling it all. A decade later, I read the “Insanely Great” myopia of Apple. Reading it was a mix of the inside track connecting and realizing how much I missed between the lines. For instance, I recall certain undertones about Steve Jobs. However, 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 now find the Sculley and Jobs (or now Cook and Jobs) difference more enlightening. As I connected the dots, I grew to dislike the “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. Instead, it was about embedding their products with less features that fit with their ecosystem.
  2. Even then, it was obvious that Apple followed the 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 models to schools, and kids would later buy their own for home. It was simply 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 already pulled them in, like any other product allegiance concept.
  3. It was clear if you stayed ahead on form factors to make ecosystem adoption easy, then people would forgive the higher prices, 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. Once Jobs was out of the picture, and someone else had to make up with that lack of discipline, the margins began to crumble. They had to reel internally on recouping on bad product management lifecycles, decisions, and especially bad coordination with engineering.
  5. By the 90s, Sculley “ran the company into the ground” was how it was written. It was an epic story of emerging business management greatness and some of the biggest flops..
  6. What we all failed to realize was that it was different than marketing a standing commodity like soda. That is where Jobs truly excelled. It was adapting to new forms and designing to form over function.

In all reality, maybe I am a sympathizer. I think Sculley inherited a genius capitalist’s mess on the upswing. Then, as soon as market share dwindled, the emperor had no clothes. Consequently,  Sculley was stuck dealing with the mess and was not setup with the right executive team to fight two situations – financials and innovation – at once. Cook began to hit that same issue 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. Also, Consider How Your Organization Tries To Balance Form Over Function And Discipline Design And Management

In this article, you can read about some of the management inner workings from Sculley’s angle. This is the side we do not often report on, except that “he” fired Jobs.

I read it again, and was amazed at the parallels we’re going through right now in many of our projects. There really are some fascinating soap opera lessons learned. Also, insight for any executive when you look at the tales of other executives.