In 1985, John Sculley–Apple’s president and Steve Jobs’ partner and confidante–became frustrated with Jobs’ management style. He forced Jobs into a role as Apple’s chairman that was designed to prevent him from making any decisions. A few months later, Jobs resigned and founded NeXT. And that, it seemed, was that.
The saga got a lot of coverage in the press–not as much as this week’s Jobs news, but a lot. It’s fascinating to look back at it. And I don’t blame anyone who failed to understand the implicates of Jobs leaving back then or even cheered his exodus. I mean, who would have believed you if you’d outlined the story to come?
Here’s InfoWorld’ Kevin Strehlo, in “Shuffle Could Aid Apple,” June 24th 1985, part of a cover package on how Sculley forced Jobs into a role as chairman that involved no product responsibility:
Employees in the field, away from daily news reports that dwell on the dark specter of layoffs, seem ebullient. “At last we have someone who is watching the bottom line,” says a nearly five-year Apple veteran about the rise of Sculley. “He”s brought accountability to an organization in which it’s been lacking for five years.”
“I think Apple is making the transition from one phase of its life to the next. I don’t know that the image of a leader clad in a bow tie, jeans, and suspenders would help us survive in the coming years.”
The Miami News, in a newsbrief on June 27th, 1985:
Sculley, who consolidated control at Apple during the reorganization May 31 and reduced the power of chairman and founder Steve Jobs, spoke of several kay people in the company without mentioning Jobs. “We have put our individual egos aside and are putting teamwork in place.”
Those steps, which include hiring managers from other companies, could transform the free-wheeling Apple created by Jobs into a more bureaucratic company. But Sculley says he’s convinced “a more disciplined environment will actually help us get innovative hints done quickly and effectively.”
The New York Times’ Andrew Pollack, in “Apple Computer Entrepreneur’s Rise and Fall,” September 19th 1985:
Mr. Sculley has declined to comment on Mr. Jobs’s resignation.
But in an interview today, William V. Campbell, an executive vice president, said the company did not need Mr. Jobs. ”We’ve been without Steve Jobs for the better part of four months,” he said, referring to the period since Mr. Jobs lost his operating responsibilities. ”Since that time we’ve been doing just fine.”
Mr. Jobs’s resignation culminates a tumultuous power struggle with Mr. Sculley that began earlier this year as Apple’s fortunes started to decline, a power struggle that Mr. Sculley has compared to a real-life version of ”Dynasty,” the television program.
Apple, while having a solid management, still might miss Mr. Jobs. The company is weak in top engineering talent to guide product development. Moreover, more traditional managers like Mr. Sculley have often proved no more adept at running technology companies than the original entrepreneurs. Some analysts and former employees are worried that Apple is losing its spark and becoming stodgy, a process some refer to as ”Scullification.”
”The great sadness and the great tragedy” of the departure of Mr. Jobs from Apple, Mr. Moritz [Michael Moritz, author of a book on Apple and today a legendary venture capitalist] said, ”is that both the company and he personally would be better off if they were still together.”
Another Times story by Pollack from three days later:
No one expects any dramatic changes. Long before Mr. Jobs’s resignation last week, he had been pushed aside as an active executive, leaving Mr. Sculley to run the company as he saw fit. In addition, product direction for the next six months to a year is already fairly well set.
But problems could arise in a year or two, when the time comes to develop completely new products. Almost all analysts and company officials say that Mr. Jobs lent a certain creative spark and vision to Apple, as exemplified in his leadership in the development of the Macintosh computer, a project he pushed with such passion that he neglected other Apple models. ”He has always been the company dynamo, the company personality,” said Michael Moritz, author of an Apple history. Some suggest that Apple sans Jobs will be just another company.
Mr. Sculley will hear none of that. ”We have the foundations in place for a really great Apple,” he said on Friday, in one of the first interviews he has granted since emerging victorious from his struggle with Mr. Jobs. ”We talk about vision and what Steve contributed to vision, and it’s an immense contribution, no doubt about it,” said Mr. Sculley. He sounded sometimes bitter but usually reflective about the souring of his relationship with the young man who founded Apple in his parents’ garage in the mid-1970′s. Mr. Jobs. developed that first computer with his friend Stephen Wozniak, who left Apple last February in a disagreement with his partner over priorities.
”Computers were big boring blue boxes until Steve Jobs came along,” Mr. Sculley said. And Apple will continue to be driven by the same vision of making computers for the individual in a youth-oriented company, he asserted. ”But people tend to confuse vision with innovation,” Mr. Sculley added. ”The real question is innovation, and most of the innovation, including the innovations in Macintosh, came from a lot of people.”
The San Jose Mercury News, in “Sculley: No Role for Jobs in Running Apple,” July 25th 1985:
John Sculley, Apple Computer Inc.’s president and chief executive officer, said Wednesday: “There is no role for Steve Jobs in the running of this company either today or in the future . . . but there is a role for Steve Jobs as chairman of the board.”
Sculley’s comments came after a meeting with securities analysts in Cupertino.
Sculley described Apple’s recent reorganization as painful but necessary. Chairman and co-founder Steven P. Jobs was removed from day-to-day operating responsibilities in the restructuring about seven weeks ago.
”I didn’t come to Apple with the intention of taking Apple away from Steve Jobs,” Sculley said.
”But it became increasingly clear that Steve and I had two very different ideas on how the company ought to be run.”
He said, “the outcome is very clear.”
Fortune’s Bro Uttal, in “Behind the Fall of Steve Jobs,” August 5th 1985:
Until June, Jobs led the development and marketing of the Macintosh computer, an easy-to-use, technologically advanced machine on which Apple has staked its future. Many insiders are shocked by his removal; they fear Apple has lost the spirit and vision that made it into a business phenomenon. Says one: ”They’ve cut the heart out of Apple and substituted an artificial one. We’ll just have to see how long it pumps.”
What Apple must do is hold together and carry out the latest product and marketing plans. To remain a strong contender in the long run, the company will also need the kinds of breakthrough products to which Jobs is devoted. Though Apple hopes to retain Jobs, it’s unclear whether he will stay on. In recent weeks he has seemed content to perform ambassadorial roles — promoting the Macintosh in French universities and jetting to the Soviet Union to check out opportunities for selling computers.
But Jobs has also talked of selling his stock — recently worth about $120 million — to endow a new R&D outfit that he would head. If he does leave, the company will lose a champion of innovation, a foe of bureaucracy, and a priceless proselytizer to the rest of the world.
The Washington Post’s T.R. Reid, in a prescient piece titled “Sculley Means Trouble in Apple’s Orchard,” August 5th 1985:
In my view, the directors of Apple have made an outrageous and potentially fatal blunder in taking their company away from the founding father than turning it over to a generic marketing man. The computer industry is littered with the corpses of promising companies that were managed into oblivion by marketing “experts” who had no particular feel for silicon and software.
The distinguishing thing about Steven Jobs is that he has a vision, a pervasive philosophy, about the role of personal computers in modern life. His whole professional career has been an effort–remarkably successful, at that–to bring that vision to life.
Over the long haul, Apple sans Steven Jobs is not going to be a pretty sight The company has sold its birthright for a mess of Pepsi–and made a crucial blunder in doing so.
TIME’s Barbara Rudolph, in “Shaken to the Very Core,” September 30th 1985, which calls Jobs “brash,” “brilliant,” and “petulant,” among other things:
Silicon Valley remains rife with speculation about how well Apple will function without Jobs. Sculley is confident: “Steve’s great contribution was recognizing that computers were tools for individuals and not large blue boxes for institutions. That doesn’t change, whether Steve is here or not.” Some observers, noting that Apple stock jumped $1 a share after Jobs’ resignation became known, believe his departure may be a blessing for the company. Says David Gold, a Palo Alto venture capitalist: “It’s good news for Apple that | he’s out of their hair. The loss of a few employees is probably a small price to pay to have Steve Jobs going off and doing something else.” But Nolan Bushnell, who founded Atari and subsequently launched and left several other firms, including Pizza Time Theater, is not so sure. Says he: “Where is Apple’s inspiration going to come from? Is Apple going to have all the romance of a new brand of Pepsi?”
I wonder how this week’s coverage will read in 2037–or even a year from now?