The success of Apple is often attributed to Steve Jobs, and clearly he deserves much credit. But it was another CEO, John Sculley, who took Apple from a million dollars to a billion in revenue.
I recently had the privilege of speaking with John Sculley for a podcast series we produce. Our conversation was a vivid reminder that Sculley is a gifted marketer who truly understands how to focus on customers’ needs. From his vast experience running some of the world’s successful companies, I would like to highlight a few of the leadership lessons he gained from his distinguished career and which he describes in his new book Moonshot. Sculley has profound advice for those just beginning their careers and equally insightful wisdom for those of us at the opposite point in the age spectrum.
John-Sculley-Forbes1. Great leaders look ahead to solve a big customer problem
Sculley: “The traditional business-planning process largely begins with where you are and what you have accomplished and then makes projections based on a set of assumptions as to where you want to be next year. That isn’t how great leaders run companies. The great leaders—and I’ve seen this for over 40 years—always start with the big customer problem that needs solving and determine if there are better ways of accomplishing this than those which existed in the past. The customer plan becomes far more important than the business plan. Great leaders understand that all organizations are in business to satisfy customers.”
2. No matter what age you are or what level you reach don’t stop learning
Sculley: “I’m 76 years old and I haven’t stopped learning. The real answer is that you have to stay curious. You have to stay current. I have many friends, some younger than me, who have decided to retire and then decided to come back and be on a board or be a consultant. If you are out of the market for six or seven years, the world has just changed too much. It is very hard to come back. If you stay curious, stay open-minded, continue to learn, constantly network, and keep involved, age is not a limiting factor.”
3. Take risks and learn to adapt to change
Sculley: “There has to be a culture of higher risk-taking. People need to learn how to fail fast, learn fast, and to always lean forward. People need to learn that it is okay to make mistakes and to learn from them. If we don’t change this simple cultural principle, people won’t take risks and they won’t try new things. Without this, people won’t become leaders who are going to be able to deal with and adapt to the world of change. Change is now the norm.
We need people who have curiosity, are risk-takers, and are constantly upgrading their skills. The real takeaway message for anyone interested in growing talent and building the leaders of the future is to make sure we prepare them for the world that is in front of us and not calibrate their skills and preparations for the world that is behind us.”
4. You can’t do everything better yourself
Sculley: “I wish I had learned it earlier, but when you are young, you either think you can do everything better yourself, or you think you can’t admit that someone else might actually be better than you at a number of things a company has to do to be successful. It turns out that very few, if any of us, are equally good at everything you have to do to be a successful leader.”
The most successful leaders understand their strengths and the strengths of those around them so they can delegate tasks.
Sculley said much more, of course, but these excerpts provide a glimpse at the wisdom of this iconic executive. The business world clearly benefits from its youthful leaders, but also has much to gain the insight and acumen of its elders, and Sculley is one of its best.
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