After former PepsiCo president John Sculley was recruited to Apple as its CEO in 1983, he spent hours listening to conversations between Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Jobs was working on the first Macintosh while Gates was about to release Windows 1.0. “They never, ever, talked about money,” Sculley told me recently in a wide-ranging interview about his years at Apple, his painful split with Steve Jobs, and his current work in the healthcare space.
“Instead, Bill and Steve loved to define things as a big noble cause.”
One day, very early in his tenure at Apple, Sculley was sitting in the Macintosh lab late at night and the conversation turned to how Bill Gates and Steve Jobs wanted to empower nontechnical people with personal computers and easy-to-use software. The entrepreneurs talked about building tools to help people unleash their best ideas, creativity and performance. For Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, money wasn’t the noble cause; they wanted to change the world.
“Carmine, keep in mind that I came out of the world of corporate combat. I was a veteran of the cola wars. If Pepsi went up, Coke had to go down. It was a zero-sum game,” Sculley said. “These guys were talking about a noble cause. This was 1983 and I had never heard those words before. It stuck with me.”
Sculley reinforces the point that every major innovation or advance—every “Moonshot”— begins with a noble cause, a vision by the founders to make the world a better place. Ten years ago, Sculley himself was thinking about reinventing his career and decided his noble cause would be in healthcare. It was a perfect domain for Sculley to specialize in. Healthcare spending makes up nearly 20 percent of the U.S. economy. It’s complicated and inefficient, and few technology investors understand it. Yet it’s technology that will reduce costs and boost profits while improving patient outcomes. “If you don’t understand how the healthcare system really works—which is illogical—it’s hard to throw technology against it,” argues Sculley.
“I think of the patient as the person whose experience I’m most interested in,” says Sculley. “If we can do a really good job of improving the experience of the patient, there’s no reason why we can’t completely reinvent that experience and do it more efficiently.”
Pursuing a noble cause in healthcare led Sculley to co-found and invest in companies like Rx Advance, which is aimed at taking an existing technology (cloud computing and big data) and using it to reduce up to $300 or $400 billion of inefficiencies in the pharmacy benefit management industry.
In a now famous story, Steve Jobs and John Sculley, then PepsiCo president, were sitting on a balcony overlooking New York’s Central Park. Jobs turned to Sculley and said, “Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life or come with me and change the world?” Sculley said the question landed like “a punch to the gut.”
When Sculley took Steve Jobs up on his offer, Jobs did not have many close friends. “He was too busy putting a dent in the universe,” says Sculley. Sculley became like an older brother to Jobs.
“The breakup was so emotional because we were very close,” recalls Sculley. “But I think back all the time and say, wow, what a privilege it was to be that close to Steve Jobs for several years. The walks we took, the things I learned from him and what he learned from me about marketing. The student became the master. He became an incredible marketer. I learned about the noble cause and to create insanely great user experiences. These were brilliant insights that nobody in Silicon Valley was thinking about at the time.”
John Sculley says that today is the most exciting time to be a business leader. Technologies are commoditizing and growing exponentially, offering companies the building blocks to solve massive customer problems. “I used to say genius is the ability to see twenty years ahead of the rest of us. Now it’s the ability to see the obvious three years ahead because what used to take twenty years now takes three.”
“I get to work with a whole new generation of very talented entrepreneurs,” says Sculley. “And they are just as interested in noble causes as the people I worked with at Apple in the early days of Silicon Valley.”