Book Review: Odyssey – Pepsi To Apple, by John Sculley

by Ian Rosenwach on 3.4.2010

In Odyssey, Pepsi to Apple, John Sculley tells his story of working at Pepsi and then as President at Apple. Sculley was at Apple from 1983 – 1993 as CEO.  The book was written in 1988 while Sculley was still Apple CEO.

There is one good reason to read this book and that is to have more insight’s into Apple’s strategy.  This book was written by a CEO that is actually willing to openly discuss Apple’s strategy in detail, unlike their current CEO (in particular see page 387 – 388 for some good bullet points from Apple’s original business plan).   It’s a good read if you’re into management, organizational cultures, Apple, and Steve Jobs as a leader and personality.

The most interesting parts of the book involve, you guessed it, Steve Jobs.  Sculley seems to take pride in his role in removing Jobs from an operational role within the company while maintaining him as a figurehead as Chairman.  Shortly after, Jobs left Apple to start NeXT, taking some of Apple’s best people with him, while Sculley was CEO. In Sculley’s telling, he defeated Jobs in a high stakes corporate drama and managed to turn around the company by making Apple more “business friendly”.

We know how things turned out after NeXT.  Jobs returned to Apple to make history.  Apple bought NeXT and Jobs finagled his way back to the top. In the corporate history books we can be fairly certain that Jobs will have his own chapter, while Sculley is a footnote.  What I found interesting is the degree of attachment Jobs has to Apple – namely, how much he cares.  Sculley frequently refers to how emotional he got, especially when Sculley removed him from operations, with the Board’s approval.

There’s a lot we can learn from Steve Jobs.  He cares about Apple in a way that few, if any, leaders care about their companies.  Perhaps this is an idealistic way to look at it – Jobs has significant stock holdings in Apple and wants to maximize his personal worth.  But I don’t think it’s that simple.  This is simply a human being who cares about what they’re doing.   I don’t know what makes him care, but that doesn’t really matter – he does and that is one reason why Apple is one of the most successful companies in American history.

Other highlights include:

  • Sculley creating the Pepsi Generation campaign that vaulted Pepsi above Coca Cola in market share for the first time ever
  • Insider accounts of what it was like to be an executive at Pepsi and Apple, two very different corporate cultures
  • Sculley’s obsession with the Japanese
  • Some good Silicon Valley anecdotes – conversations with Bill Gates, Bill Campbell, Mike Markhula, Del Yocam, and Esther Dyson
  • Perspective on how to run an organization and deal with challenging personalities
  • In the epilogue Sculley shares his vision for something called “Knowledge Navigator”.  What he talks about is what has emerged as the Web with Google as the dominant search engine.  Good call there, he must have been listening to Alan Kay.

Apple has always stood for the individual.  Sculley tried to steer it towards the Corporation, but since then it has continued to focus on empowering individuals through the use of technology and content.  This book will give you more insight into what makes Apple unique and how the company dealt with the turbulence of the mid-80’s.

Odyssey: Pepsi to Apple… a Journey of Adventure, Ideas and the Future

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