The son of a Wall Street lawyer father and an artistic mother, John Sculley was born in New York City and grew up in Bermuda and on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. As college approached, he was more interested in architecture and industrial design than in marketing or technology. He earned an undergraduate degree from Brown University and enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Architecture. But a summer internship at a New York industrial design firm convinced Sculley that marketers, not designers, were calling the shots. So he switched to Wharton, Penn’s prestigious graduate school of business.
After earning his MBA in 1963, and taking advantage of his interest in math and statistical modeling, Sculley worked in market research for a New York advertising agency. Four years later, as big corporations began moving their marketing operations in-house, he joined the Pepsi-Cola Company as a trainee.
Sculley describes his first few months at Pepsi as a whirlwind of different jobs in different cities as he learned the rules of corporate culture and the ropes of the soft drink industry. By 1970, at age 30, he was Pepsi’s youngest vice president of marketing, managing a staff of 75. In 1977, after heading the company’s International Foods division and then serving as senior vice president for US sales and marketing, he was named the youngest ever President of Pepsi-Cola.
Apple Computer founder Steve Jobs then recruited Sculley as CEO in 1983, asking him in a now-famous line, “Do you want to sell sugar water all your life, or do you want to change the world?”
The Macintosh had not yet been introduced. At the time, computers were sold largely based on their technology features. The difference for Apple, says Sculley, was their goal to create what Jobs called an “insanely great consumer experience.” “On the one hand, Apple might have missed something big by not being a technology licensing company, but that’s not the business we were in,” Sculley told Wharton Alumni Magazine. “We were in the business of marketing the experience.”
Macintosh become the number-one selling personal computer in the world during Sculley’s tenure as CEO, ending in 1993.