In 1983, John Sculley got the pitch of a lifetime from Steve Jobs to quit his job as the CEO of Pepsi (PEP – Get Report) and start leading Apple (AAPL – Get Report) . Jobs famously asked the inveterate businessman, “Do you want to sell sugared water for the rest of your life or come with me and change the world?”
In the time since that fateful question, Sculley served as Apple’s chief executive for 10 years and went on to invest in and assist a number of companies. Presently, he finds himself in an advisory role to a number of cloud-based technology companies working to solve real-world problems in varied fields, from marketing to healthcare to fintech.
(Apple is a holding in Jim Cramer’s Action Alerts PLUS Charitable Trust Portfolio.)
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Sculley is a second pair of trusted eyes to CEOs, opening doors, putting relationships together, and bringing in capital and strategic partnerships to help private companies flourish. He took the time to catch up with The Street over the phone.
The Street: How do you describe what you do today?
John Sculley: All the technology that has been vetted, scaled, made reliable, and commoditized in Silicon Valley by these cool companies — Uber, Airbnb, LinkedIn, Facebook, Snapchat — I’m taking it into giant, established industries like healthcare, fintech, and marketing.
I focus on domain expertise, working with companies where I have the most relevant experience. I’ve been in high tech for 30 years, involved with many tech companies beyond Apple, and I have years of experience building consumer brands. So I get approached by companies and then it’s just a question of if I have the interest and time to get involved.
The Street: What has your attention lately?
Sculley: The thing that really interests me is healthcare. It’s a presidential election year and everyone has an opinion about healthcare. They either want to abolish Obamacare, prove it [works], or they don’t know what to do about it. And the reality is that what happens in that space ultimately has very little to do with politicians and lobbyists.
Everyone looks at healthcare and says, “Hey, this is not affordable. How do we solve it?” Well, the government isn’t going to solve it. It’s ridiculous to think that lobbyists and lawyers are going to make things better. It’s going to be solved by the private sector. So you say to yourself, “Where are the really really big opportunities in healthcare?” There’s nothing bigger than pharmaceuticals. If you look at pharma alone, it’s a $300 billion industry. If you look at all of the related services around pharma, it brings it up to over $700 billion. It’s gigantic.
I’m part of a company called RxAdvance, the first cloud-based pharmaceutical benefit company with revenue coming in — about $400 million in booked revenues this year alone with about $1.8 billion over the next few years of multi-year contracts.
It’s scaling incredibly fast because of two things. First, we cut 35-40% of the administrative costs out of the companies we work with, and second, we generate a huge amount of data that is valuable for answering questions like “How do you manage drug interactions for chronic care patients getting several different prescriptions from several different doctors?” or “How do you manage drug dosages for chronic care patients?” Well, we do all of that.
Somehow healthcare managed to miss the personal computer revolution, and it sure as heck can’t miss the cloud and analytics era that we’re in today. It’s one of the things I’m very passionate about, because it’s such a solvable problem.
The Street: Why is it that smaller companies are the ones to solve these giant problems?
Sculley: Consider how Tesla (TSLA – Get Report) is the company that created the electric car industry, not General Motors (GM – Get Report) . It’s not that General Motors doesn’t have smart people or a lot of capital. The reality is that it’s just very hard to move a battleship or aircraft carrier when a startup company can get the right talent with urgency and focus.
They can do things which giant corporations can’t do as easily. So with a company like RxAdvance, where we built a system that our customers love, they say, “We couldn’t possibly build that ourselves.” It’s not because they don’t have smart people — all of these companies have smart people — but because they have to deal with the complexities of their culture, and it’s very hard to get a giant corporation to pivot as rapidly as a new company.
The Street: You’re closely involved with cloud marketing company Zeta Interactive. We spoke to CEO David Steinberg in November following the company’s acquisition of eBay’s (EBAY) CRM division, and the company’s financials are remarkable. Do you foresee it going public?
Sculley: I think Zeta could easily stand public scrutiny if it wanted to be a public company. Do we have any great urge to be a public company? Not particularly. You have so much more flexibility to operate as a private company. When you’re a public company, you have to spend a lot of time speaking to your constituents, to investors, you have to meet all sorts of other requirements. It can be a distraction.
That is not a big time-consuming problem for us at Zeta because we have a relatively small number of shareholders, our board meets frequently, and we’re all very knowledgeable about the business. That way our CEO can spend his time building the company. That’s the advantage of being private.
The Street: Have you seen any of the Steve Jobs movies to come out recently?
Sculley: The real Steve Jobs was quite a bit different than the way he’s portrayed in the movies. And remember, the movies are about entertainment, there’s only so much you can do in a couple hours. The latest Steve Jobs movie has a number of people who are up for Oscars, and they won several Golden Globe awards, but it was all about entertainment.
The actual Steve Jobs — people loved working for him. He was a real human being. And I was with him when he would laugh and he would cry; he had emotions. Some of these movies portray him as so different than how he really was. If they were designed as biopics, they didn’t do a very good at that.
by Dylan Love via TheStreet