Former Apple CEO dishes on Steve Jobs' firing

John Sculley gives more details on one of the most notorious executive rejections in history.

By Kim Peterson Sep 10, 2013 12:52PM
John Sculley, former CEO of Apple and president of Pepsi, on January 17, 2013 in New Delhi, India (© Manoj Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)The most notorious executive firing in history may very well have been when Apple (AAPL) gave Steve Jobs the boot in 1985.

The move wasn't that earth-shaking in corporate America at the time, although it certainly marked one of the lowest points in Apple's history. It was only after Jobs returned to Apple -- and subsequently became one of the most revered CEOs ever -- that observers wondered why the company ever let him go in the first place.

Jobs' great adversary at the time -- John Sculley -- has been pretty quiet about the whole thing. But at a recent conference in Indonesia, he finally spoke for eight minutes about how Jobs' firing happened, and what he regrets about it.

"I really blame the board," Sculley (pictured) said, according to a writeup of his speech in Forbes. "I think the board understood Apple before I came, they understood Steve. They knew what my experience was and what it wasn't. And I really believe there could have been a solution to keep me and Steve working together, because we were really good friends up until that point."

Jobs helped recruit Sculley to Apple from PepsiCo (PEP), and by all accounts the two had a marvelous relationship until their famous clashes in 1985. The duo ran in to trouble after the second-generation Mac, the Macintosh Office, was launched that year. That Mac was ridiculed as a toy, Sculley said. "It just couldn't do very much."

Jobs "went into a deep depression," Sculley said. He wanted to cut the price of the Mac and put more money into marketing the product. But Sculley disagreed, saying the move would risk throwing the company into a loss. Finally, Sculley told Jobs he would take the disagreement to the board.

Both men ended up presenting their cases, and the board sided with Sculley. "Steve didn't at that age know much about running companies," Sculley said. Jobs would soon leave the company after being forced out of his management role.

Sculley expressed regret about not bringing Jobs back. And in a display of humility that is unusual among most executives, he admitted to making mistakes in his relationship with Jobs.
"I feel most badly, though, [because] after 10 years, I was at the company, I wanted to go back to New York where I was from. Why I didn't go to Steve Jobs and say, 'Steve, let's figure out how you can come back and lead your company.' I didn't do that, it was a terrible mistake on my part. I can't figure out why I didn't have the wisdom to do that. But I didn't. And as life has it, shortly after that, I was fired."
Jobs, for his part, has said that being fired from Apple was one of the best things that could have happened to him. Here are his comments from a 2005 commencement address at Stanford University:
"The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life." He also added, "I'm pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn't been fired from Apple. It was awful-tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it."
There's much more in Sculley's talk, and Forbes has the entire video here.

More on moneyNOW

Sep 10, 2013 3:50PM
Stabbed Jobs in the back and is trying to rewrite history. No, it doesn't work.
Sep 10, 2013 7:50PM
Sculley had a job BECAUSE of Steve Jobs, and ended up throwing him under the bus.
Sep 11, 2013 3:50PM
Sculley tells Jobs that " The Cool Aid Tastes Great!  Just great give it a try."  Foolishly Jobs trusted him.   Now are we to believe that it was just the boards fault and Sculley is innocent... Right!  He wanted total control and thought he could do the job better....bye bye Jobs....

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