You probably know at least the core facts: In the mid-1970s, Steve Jobs helped start Apple Computer, which, by his own mid-20s, made him reasonably famous and a multimillionaire; in 1983, John Sculley, president of Pepsi-Cola, was brought into Apple as president, marketing whiz and management tutor for Jobs, who remained as chairman; two years later, Sculley forced Jobs out of the company.
Knowing that, you might expect these to be clashing accounts of the central drama. In fact, the books are complementary, each supplying useful background for the other. Was Jobs truly as fascinating and as awful as Sculley claims? Jeffrey S. Young’s book (written without Job’s or Sculley’s cooperation) gives particulars. Was Sculley actually as ineffectual as Young insists? Sculley admits it, and tells us why.
The books complement each other another way. Both are execrably written.
“Odyssey,” done with the help (if that’s the word) of a BusinessWeek editor, is worse only because it is more pretentious, starting with that title. The pretension is muted during Sculley’s narration of his marketing adventures at Pepsi and Apple. Those are interesting and instructive, particularly about the cola wars maneuvers, the reasoning behind the “Pepsi Generation” and “Pepsi Challenge” campaigns, the considerations attending introduction of the Macintosh computer, and the corporate agony of indecision induced by the million-dollar “1984" TV spot.
Significantly, the writing in these parts, if uninspired, at least does not induce shudders. Same goes for Sculley’s version of his falling-out with Jobs. Unhappily, he also expounds “new age business principles,” and here the pretension is vast, the message goofy, the writing absurd.
Sculley assures us that these principles--humanistic, innovative and creative--animate “third wave” businesses like Apple, and are the hope of American business--in contradistinction to the principles of fuddy-duddy second wave companies such as (alas) Pepsi. They mostly come down to such precepts as “Encourage contrarian thinking” (i.e., allow the workers “some low level of dissent”); create “a tactile environment that jump-starts memory, feeling, emotion” (i.e., install some popcorn machines and call your buildings cute names), and most of all, consult the individual’s needs over those of the company.
So when the crunch comes for Apple in 1985, what does Sculley do? Controls inventory for more turns, cuts costs, increases margins, closes plants and fires about a quarter of those individuals whose needs he prizes over the institution’s. Fair enough; you do what you must. But once the crisis passes, he goes right back to bullyragging the second wave for its antiquarian methods.
Sculley’s presentation heightens the pretentiousness. He aims, his prefatory note explains, “to wrestle with the constraints of the book’s linear format” and with the “passivity” of reading--that second-wave habit of taking the author’s meaning word by word, beginning to end. He wants to give us “a more interactive reading experience,” mostly by means of “tutorials,” essays tacked onto the end of each chapter, explaining the narrative’s lessons. The tutorials feature things such as a chart of “Contrasting Management Paradigms.” Here we learn, for instance, that the characteristic factor of status in second wave companies is “title and rank,” rather than the enlightened third wave’s “making a difference”; the characteristic of second wave corporate culture is “tradition,” versus the new age “genetic code” (whatever that means; after three readings of the tutorial that “explains” it, I have yet to master the concept). John Sculley is the Shirley MacLaine of corporate America.
Along the way, he treats us to sentences such as: “The personal computer industry’s infrastructure comprises layers of constituents between the manufacturer and the customer.” And “My mind exploded with ideas, often to the exclusion of everything else.” Indeed “Odyssey” is a lode of potential New Yorker interdecks:
“Jean-Louis had built an envious software industry in France around the Apple II and the MAC.”
Is that why they call it the “green-eyed monitor?” A howler like that enlivens nearly every other page.
“Journey” is better only because there is less philosophy . It traces the “life and times” of Steve Jobs from grade school wimpdom to fascination with electronics, acid trips and Eastern spiritualism (a pilgrimage India, followed by lip service to Japanese Zen). Wisely, Young soon focuses on how Apple started and prospered, an interesting tale. What’s more, Young strikes a nice balance between admiration for Jobs’ hustle and vision (however, at times, astigmatic) and his frightful personality.
Young conscientiously traces the development and consequences of both elements. His version of Jobs’ ouster is more circumstantial and more convincing than Sculley’s because Young seeks exculpation for neither of them. Actually, it’s hard to see why the Apple board did not chuck both out.
The problem with the book lies in Young’s writing--in one way worse than Sculley’s because “Journey” stumbles badly even in straightforward narrative. It’s repetitive and organized higgledy-piggledy. But the saddest flaw is that Young possesses (even more than Sculley) what Oscar Levant called “a chicken fat vocabulary.” Things for Young don’t grow, they “burgeon”; all new paths are “uncharted”; every goal is a “Holy Grail” (even when it is “to savage IBM”), every early stage “inchoate,” every opponent a “nemesis.” Worse, he doesn’t know what much of his chicken fat means. He thinks “alliteration” is the same as “acronym,” that “approbation” means its opposite. He writes of “tortuous pain,” of someone “hunkered” over a lab bench.
He has an unfailing eye for the occasion of cliche, and often gets them wrong too. For instance, he tells us that because of weak leadership, Apple divisions did not cooperate: “The left and right hands didn’t talk to each other. . . .” (Zen question for Young: what is the sound of one hand talking to itself?) He perpetrates such sentences as: “By chance (Jobs) happened upon the personal computer at a remarkable time, and the serendipity of the meeting belied the explosion that resulted.”
Both authors have involving stories to tell us. Pity is they weren’t told, first, to more energetic editors.