John Sculley: Steve Jobs Wanted to Be Sony

Is it an indication of Steve Jobs’ (in)famous strive for perfection, or just stupid bone-headedness? The white variant of the iPhone 4 was first delayed for a few weeks, but those few weeks became ‘end of the year’. Now we know why: the manufacturers Apple employs are apparently having issues matching the shades of white of the various components. This anecdote ties in nicely with a very interesting interview with John Sculley about Steve Jobs’ ways of doing business.

John Sculley is not an entirely uncontroversial figure in Apple’s history. The former and very successful PepsiCo president joined Apple as CEO in 1983. While he nearly ran the company into the ground, he also increased sales from 800 million per year to 8 billion per year. However, Apple had become an organisational mess, with boatloads of projects that would never yield any marketable results, but would still get funding. In the meantime, real issues like MacOS being an unstable mess were never addressed.

More importantly, Sculley’s management style clashed with that of Steve Jobs, causing Jobs to eventually be cast out of the company. We know what happened then – Jobs founded NEXT, which made awesome innovative products but eventually failed in the marketplace due to curious design decisions, such as the prohibitively expensive and unreliable magneto-optical drive it used for storage. Only 50000 NeXT computers were sold, but who cares – it’s the company’s software that mattered, software containing innovations we still rely on every single day.

In an interview with Cult of Mac, John Sculley details his time at Apple in quite some detail and dripping with honesty – admitting his mistakes along the way. His description of Steve Jobs is pretty much what you’d expect. “He was a person of huge vision,” Sculley notes, “But he was also a person that believed in the precise detail of every step. He was methodical and careful about everything – a perfectionist to the end.”

Such a perfectionist, in fact, that Apple HQ is sitting on a pile of white iPhone 4s, without actually shipping them out to customers. The reason? The company that manufactures the white faceplate and the company that produces the home button can’t get their colours properly aligned. The whites aren’t exactly the same. That’s it. Boom, multi-million dollar profit machine won’t ship because the whites aren’t exactly the same. What do you mean, Steve’s a perfectionist?

The Sculley interview contains – among other things – another gem: Steve Jobs was in love with Sony. Sony’s products, Sony’s factories, the clothes the workers wore, everything – Jobs loved it. Sony’s CEO gave Sculley and Jobs the first Walkman and tours of the factories that made them, and all this impressed Jobs a great deal.

“We used to go visit Akio Morita and he had really the same kind of high-end standards that Steve did and respect for beautiful products,” Sculley recalls, “I remember Akio Morita gave Steve and me each one of the first Sony Walkmans. None of us had ever seen anything like that before because there had never been a product like that. This is 25 years ago and Steve was fascinated by it. The first thing he did with his was take it apart and he looked at every single part. How the fit and finish was done, how it was built.”

The Macintosh factories were modelled after Sony’s factories. “Steve’s point of reference was Sony at the time. He really wanted to be Sony. He didn’t want to be IBM. He didn’t want to be Microsoft. He wanted to be Sony,” Sculley adds.

You can say what you want about Apple, but at this point, Jobs’ perfectionism is paying off. The company is doing better than ever, selling insane amounts of products at even crazier profit margins. Even if it means you’re not getting your white iPhone 4.


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