Odyssey: Pepsi to Apple by John A. Byrne, John Sculley

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(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

When John Sculley joined Pepsi-Cola in 1967, he was its first MBA. He soon became marketing vice president and launched the “Pepsi Generation” advertising campaign, making Pepsi a serious competitor to Coca-Cola for the first time and beginning the “Cola Wars.” The later “Pepsi Challenge” campaign was equally successful; at age thirty-eight Sculley became Pepsi’s youngest president and a serious contender to succeed Don Kendall as CEO.

If this seems an unlikely background for a high-tech chief executive, it also seemed so to Sculley when Apple Computer began courting him. Intrigued by Apple’s position in the fast-growing computer industry and by the charismatic Steve Jobs, Apple’s chairman and cofounder, he found himself taking the offer seriously. The decision to leave Pepsi for Apple was more than a career move; it resulted in a new way of life.

Apple’s subsequent successes, followed by the difficulty which culminated in Jobs leaving the company he founded, were front-page business news. Sculley’s unflinchingly honest chronicle of those events paints a different picture from the boardroom coup portrayed by the press. It rings true, not least because the self-criticism is so unsparing.

Business biographies can be self-absorbed, and Sculley has as much cause as any: His successes and failures have been dramatic, with a corporate turnaround for happy ending. The dominant characteristic of this account, however, is its thoughtfulness. Sculley is quick to credit the many people from whom he learned and to reflect upon what his experiences have taught him. This is most explicit in the “tutorials"-- short essays that follow each chapter and explain a management or marketing lesson raised by the story. ODYSSEY is a remarkable book, equally rich in business history and thought-provoking analysis.