Steve Jobs Was Thinking About a Phone in 1984

Apple's John Sculley Recalls Mr. Jobs' Exit: He 'Never Forgave Me'

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John Sculley talks with David Carr at the Web Summit in Dublin on Tuesday.
John Sculley talks with David Carr at the Web Summit in Dublin on Tuesday.

Steve Jobs was the classic troublesome visionary, former Apple CEO John Sculley said on Tuesday at the Web Summit conference in Dublin. "Even back in 1984, he was working on the idea of a phone," Mr. Sculley said, citing that as an example of Mr. Jobs' genius.

He was thinking 20 years ahead of everyone else -- but that also proved problematic, according to Mr. Sculley. Amid Mr. Jobs' many concrete accomplishments, fueled by visions far ahead of modern technology, he often focused on innovations that weren't yet within the realm of possibility. Clashes with the Apple board along those lines led to Mr. Jobs' eventual exit from Apple. "Steve Jobs never forgave me," Mr. Sculley said.

Mr. Jobs' return and subsequent success with innovations no less than the iPhone redeemed his reputation and then some. Today Apple still retains some of its perception as an underdog when it's really an unequivocal world-class giant, New York Times media columnist David Carr pointed out during his talk with Mr. Sculley. "That's a pretty good campaign you've run," Mr. Carr said.

The challenger halo owes at least at much to Mr. Jobs as any marketing that expressed his vision, Mr. Sculley suggested. It wasn't until after Mr. Jobs left that it became apparent how devastating the loss of a founder can be to a company, he said, unless the founder's vision remains intact.

"The brilliance of the founder makes all the difference," Mr. Sculley added, citing contemporary examples such as Tesla's Elon Musk, Google's Sergey Brin and Larry Page and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg.

Today there seem to be no shortage of visions, Mr. Carr said, but rather a sea of opportunities as technology makes it easier to turn an idea into reality. "What becomes expensive is attention," he said.

Mr. Sculley agreed, saying he gets about 150 unsolicited LinkedIn messages a day from entrepreneurs seeking just 15 minutes of his time. "We are in this tsunami of technologies," Mr. Sculley said. "It isn't just one moonshot."

Whether an innovator can succeed now increasingly depends on consumers, and what they tell their friends, and less on marketers' arguments, he added. "It's all about the customer experience," Mr. Sculley said. WhatsApp, a messaging startup with no revenue, was sold to Facebook for $19 billion, because of the great customer experience it provided, he said.

Mr. Sculley's latest venture is a low-cost smartphone brand called Obi, designed for developing markets.

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