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

eWEEK 30: Apple was nearly sold to Sun Microsystems for $6 a share before Steve Jobs returned in 1997 to oversee development of the iMac and iconic wireless devices that made Apple one of the richest companies in history.

Apple, with its high-flying stock price, millions of devoted customers and $200 billion-plus in total assets, may be on top of the world now. But it survived some dark years to get to where it is today as one of the world's richest and most successful companies.

A mere 16 months after introducing its then-signature product in 1984, the Macintosh desktop personal computer, the company's visionary co-founder, Steve Jobs, was effectively shown the door at age 30 on May 31, 1985.

He had clashed for two years with his hand-chosen successor, former PepsiCo CEO John Sculley and the Apple board of directors over a great many things— not the least of which were the company's enterprise versus consumer direction and its sacrosanct creative culture.

"I remember distinctly the day of that board meeting where he was ousted, and it had the quality of the day Kennedy was shot," a longtime former Apple manager, who asked not to be identified in this article, recalled to eWEEK. "Without him, it just wasn't the same company. When you look back, it was something of a miracle the company survived until he returned."

By 1985, nine-year-old Apple had cut daily operations ties from both its founders, Jobs and Steve Wozniak, who had come up with the most user-friendly and useful—if not the most powerful and business-oriented—desktop computer that had existed up to that time. Apple was now in the hands of corporate leadership that had no connection to the company' founding principles.

Apple wanted a more businesslike approach and that was Sculley's promise. Sculley served 10 years as CEO until 1993, when he was forced to step down despite presiding over a revenue increase from $800 million to $8 billion in 1993. Sculley hadn't been responsible for the development of the Mac and Mac Office, which spurred most of that growth. But he had the good fortune to make the most of the technology that was created by Jobs, Wozniak and other Apple developers in the 1980s.

However, Sculley's aim was to make the Mac the best-selling business computer in the world and the company did attain that goal, but in the process, he changed Apple's consumer-oriented sales and marketing culture. This caused much consternation among the staff, many of whom left for other companies.

By 1992, Apple indeed had passed IBM as the best-selling PC maker in the world. But Sculley ultimately was forced to vacate the Apple CEO office because of his continuous clash with the Apple culture and also because he didn't want to license Macintosh software—preferring to keep it all in house and proprietary. Finally, he wanted to divide Apple into two companies, and that idea didn't fly at all with the board and employees.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 15 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...