SANTA CLARA, Calif. - 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?
No, says former Sun CEO Scott McNealy. "If we had bought Apple, there wouldn't have been iPods or iPads ... I'd have screwed that up," McNealy conceded in a talk Feb. 24 with another former Sun top executive, ex-President Ed Zander, at a Churchill Club dinner at the Santa Clara Convention Center.
McNealy (pictured) and Zander, headline speakers at the event, talked about their years at Sun when that company was one of the world's top producers of servers, workstations, data storage systems and Unix data center software. It also had a healthy enterprise processor business with its Sparc architecture.
A Wall Street darling in the 1980s and '90s, Sun fell on hard times in the 2000s and ultimately was bought by Oracle in January 2010 for $7.4 billion.
But there was a time when Sun, at its wealthiest, was poised to buy Apple when it was at the lowest point in its storied history.
"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 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?"
"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.