Do you suppose Steven Jobs is having second thoughts?
It was Jobs, after all, who decided back in 1983 that Apple Computer, the innovative and wildly successful company he had founded, needed a professional manager at the helm. And it was Jobs who recruited John Sculley, a marketing type from Pepsi-Cola, for the job.
To make a long story short, if not sweet, this didn't work out real well for Steven Jobs. Sculley won the loyalty of Apple's board of directors. This spring, with sales in a nosedive and the company in disarray, Sculley and the directors agreed on a scapegoat: Steven Jobs. At a three-hour meeting on May 24, Sculley won sole control. Jobs got the old heave-ho, right out the door of the company he had personally created.
Today, Jobs is traveling and thinking, the company says. He is expected to return to Apple Any Day Now. According to reports in the trade press, however, he has been informed that he will have no operational authority in the Sculley regime.
Could it be, could it possibly be, that Jobs is having second thoughts about this Sculley character?
Truth-in-Journalism requires the admission at this point that I don't know all the details of the coup d'etat at Apple. This minor handicap has never prevented me from expressing my views in the past, though, and I certainly won't let it stand in the way this time.
In my view, the directors of Apple have made an outrageous and potentially fatal blunder in taking their company away from the founding father and 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 or software. The firms that are succeeding today are by and large the ones where management has a particular affinity for computing.
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.
Jobs has done for personal computing what Arnold Palmer did for golf -- he took it away from a small, elite corps of buffs and gave it to the masses. Eons ago (it was 1975, actually, but that is virtually prehistoric time for the microcomputer business), when Jobs and his pal Stephen Wozniak went out to the garage and built their first computer -- an event heralded by President Reagan in his "America, go for it" speech -- Jobs got the unprecedented notion that the device might have appeal beyond the small circle of electronics hobbyists who were into microcomputers at the time.
Jobs set out to democratize the computer, to make it accessible and appealing to everybody. This vision is reflected in the sleek white packaging, the laid-back manuals, and the friendly, low-tech name that Jobs chose for his computer company.
From that first Apple I to today's Macintosh, Apple's computers generally have been overpriced and underpowered compared with much of the competition. But the company has flourished (nearly $2 billion in sales last year) while dozens of competitors have gone belly-up. Why? Because Apple was propelled by the force of a driving dream -- by the power of the founder's vision for his company and his industry.
Without that vision, Apple is likely to turn into nothing more than one more computer company engaged in a futile pursuit of IBM.
It's not too hard to guess what Sculley is going to do to "revive" Apple. He'll probably lay off American workers and rely more on overseas production facilities -- a predictable but somewhat un-American ploy that has failed for other computer companies. He'll clearly move closer and closer toward the IBM and MS-DOS standard, an inevitable and laudable course. He'll gradually transform Jobs' company from a visionary crusade into a practical business.
Presumably, that future looks rosy to the board of directors. And it may be a desirable course for the narrow, short-term goal of steering Apple through the present computer industry doldrums. But aren't corporate directors supposed to look beyond the short term?
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.