Steve Jobs' Biggest Mistake—Or His Best Decision

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Was hiring John Sculley, the man who sold fizzy drinks and corn snacks at Pepsico, the biggest mistake Steve Jobs ever made? Sculley now seems to think that's the case, but I disagree:

Looking back, it was a big mistake that I was ever hired as CEO. I was not the first choice that Steve wanted to be the CEO. He was the first choice, but the board wasn't prepared to make him CEO when he was 25, 26 years old.


They went and recruited me. I came in not knowing anything about computers. The idea was that Steve and I were going to work as partners. He would be the technical person and I would be the marketing person.

The reason why I said it was a mistake to have hired me as CEO was Steve always wanted to be CEO. It would have been much more honest if the board had said, "Let's figure out a way for him to be CEO. You could focus on the stuff that you bring and he focuses on the stuff he brings."

It's surprising to see John Sculley saying these words, especially if you have read his book Odyssey: Pepsi to Apple. There he spends quite a few dead trees justifying everything that happened when he came to Cupertino.

But I don't think hiring Sculley was a mistake at all. In fact, I think it was a blessing for Steve Jobs. After he was basically fired from Apple, Jobs learned more during his years in purgatory—the shattering of his Next dream and the near-death of Pixar—than in any other period of his life. Not about technology or marketing, but about the failures that make all of us into human beings.


Sure, at the time it sucked to be Silicon Valley's most famous rock star one day, and fall into the hell of exile the next. But like the hero who had to complete a journey to fulfill his ultimate quest, Jobs needed that trip.

Some of those changes were for good. Some for bad. And perhaps the things that really needed to change never really changed. But the fact is that Apple wouldn't be where it is today without Sculley. Both for kicking Jobs' ass out of the business he created—so he could return later for a new age of invention—and for pushing Apple into new directions—like the failed Newton that ultimately resulted in the incredibly successful iPhone and iPad.

You can read the rest of Sculley's thoughts at Cult of Mac.