eWEEK at 30: Steve Jobs Returns in 1997 to Revive a Moribund Apple

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2013-11-08 Print this article Print

Sculley Out After 10 Years, Spindler In

When Sculley was ousted by the board of directors in June 1993, he left the company financially comfortable. Apple had $2 billion in the bank and only $200 million in debt.  In business terms, Sculley was an unqualified success; he had accomplished his goals. However, many on the board and staff detested him for trying to carve up the company and because they saw him as "back-stabbing" Jobs a decade previously.

Longtime Apple executive Michael Spindler served as president and CEO at Apple from 1993 to 1996. Spindler supervised a successful project, the PowerPC, to go with some failures, such as the Newton connected handheld device and the Copland operating system.

But Spindler proved not to be the long-term, visionary leader the company needed. The company was flailing and it was hemorrhaging cash. Apple stock was in the tank. There were no innovative products on the horizon. Longtime loyal staff people were bailing out.

Sun Almost Bought Apple for a Song

Then Apple hit bottom. Spindler had to resort to takeover discussions with IBM, Sun Microsystems and Philips in 1995. In fact, Apple's situation looked so bleak during that dark period that it was almost sold to Sun for a pittance: $6 per share.

Would there be iPhones, iPads and iPods on the market today if Sun Microsystems had been able to close a deal to buy out Apple in the mid-1990s?

Probably not, said then-Sun CEO Scott McNealy. "If we had bought Apple, there wouldn't have been iPods or iPads ... I'd have screwed that up," McNealy said with a wry laugh during a 2011 talk at a Churchill Club dinner with another former Sun top executive, ex-President Ed Zander.

"Back in late 1995 early '96, when we were at our peak, we were literally hours away from buying Apple for about $5 to $6 a share," said Zander, who had built Sun's software business into a powerhouse and was rewarded with a promotion to president by his mentor, McNealy.

"Honest to gosh, I was at an analysts' meeting in San Diego on a Tuesday morning and was getting ready to announce that we were going to buy Apple. I don't know what we were going to do with it, but we were going to buy it. [Apple] had no CEO at the time; Steve [Jobs] wasn't there, but we didn't get it. Why didn't we buy it?"

But there were last-minute road blocks. "We wanted to do it," McNealy said. "There was an investment banker on the Apple side, an absolute disaster, and he basically blocked it. He put so many terms into the deal that we couldn't afford to go do it."

"Just think, that if that night had been different, I don't know what would have happened," Zander said.

Apple Buys NeXT, Jobs Comes Back

Jobs was not idle during the years of his exile. Between 1985 and 1997, Jobs continued his entrepreneurial ways by founding NeXT Computer and the digital movie studio Pixar. Jobs later said he learned how to be a real CEO in those years.



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