Entrepreneurs must 'break the rules'

John Sculley, ex-Apple CEOFrom his success with the iconic Pepsi challenge to the highs and lows of his time working with Steve Jobs, ex-Apple CEO John Sculley is well qualified to talk about the keys to business success. He shared his views on the differing approaches to leading a business and talked about Asian talent and innovation.
  
Telecom Asia: With vast experience across the globe and in Asia, do you see any difference in how Asians approach entrepreneurship compared to the US?
 
John Sculley: Actually I see a tremendous difference. I'd say in terms of sheer talent, it's extraordinary how much talent there is in Asia. The level of talent from my experience so far has meant that Asians are taking on increasingly important roles in technology companies, and more truly great products are being created outside of the West.
 
While there are great success stories that are developing in Asia, I also see a major limiting factor. That factor is that the Asian model tends to be a very top-down model where the education system looks for perfection. The graduates of universities in the Asian culture tend to be the best students in the class. But in the past many leaders of the current leading high-tech companies often are college dropouts or have not been very successful students.
 
But these individuals have been motivated by their desire and passion to change the rules. Whereas the Asians play by the rules, the entrepreneurs from the West are all about breaking the rules. And this is a cultural issue, it's not a talent issue.
  
In your view does it require a democratic society to be a place that is conducive for innovation?
 
I don't think innovation has much to do with democracy. In fact, I think that if you try to be too democratic, you're going to be making compromises, because democracy is by nature a compromise-based system. So if you want to have true innovation, you have to be prepared to do things and take risks and make choices and maybe fail and then try again.
 
When we talk about breaking the rules, someone's got to ultimately make that critical decision. You can't turn it out to everybody to vote on it. So I'm not a big fan of a democratic process in terms of running a high-tech business.
 
If you look at the really successful innovators in the industry, I'd say the person closest in terms of who's the next Steve Jobs?
The only person I've seen so far is Jeff Bezos: he takes big risks, he can make the decisions, he's very smart, people believe in what he's doing, and Amazon is just an incredibly creative type of company. There are some others. You could add to that list, but he stands out. And that's not through being a democratic process.
  
What do you see as the next big thing?
I think wearables are going to be huge. And I think it's all about - not just the sensor - but about the big data analytics. I studied enough mathematics when I was in school, we were doing statistics and Markov chain analysis, so we were deep into the probability math, but you couldn't do anything really useful with it as the computers weren't powerful enough.
 
Well today computers have the power and predictive analytics will change many industries and heath in particular. So I'm hugely interested in the combination of sensors and big data analytics. I think it's going to be world-changing over the next decade.
  
We also hear how technology budgets are shifting to chief marketing officers, CFOs, other people within the business. There's a sense that maybe the CIO is losing influence. As a CEO, how do you see that?
 
That's a great question as I was just reading that the technology budget for CMOs, chief marketing budgets, is soon to be larger than the technology budget for many CIOs.
 
I think that you have to step back and say every CEO has to be deeply involved in the technology issues of their company. If they aren't, they're probably going to have a very unhappy surprise that somebody has disrupted their business while they were sleeping.
 
So whether you call that person who plays a key role in technology a CIO or a CTO or some other title, it doesn't make too much difference what the title is as long as technology is a key priority within the role. The thing that makes running companies different today compared when I started Pepsi is that we were in the era of the imperial CEO.
 
You could never admit that you weren't equally good at everything that needed to be done. Well that's absurd, nobody tries to do that in leadership any more. There's a much greater role for teams in leading businesses today. The point is I think we're going to see continual change in how successful businesses are run. And they're going to look a lot less like the world which I have come from.
  
What about the changing role of women in businesses?
The biggest change I think is the role of women in leadership. We clearly see that. Look at Silicon Valley - you've got Yahoo, you've got HP, you've got IBM, you've got the No 2 person at Facebook.
 
You've got senior leaders in the industry who are women. Well, that was unheard of when I was there 30 years ago. Look around the world. Take the Arab world. The Arab world will not accept that. Can you imagine the Arab world accepting women to come in and lead their most innovative companies? Well, they don't have any innovative companies, so maybe that's the first issue.

The way women approach problems is so much more in line with the type of resources that we have today. Men aren't good at multi-tasking; we're very good at doing things in a linear, step-by-step way. I think women are really suited in many ways to play much bigger roles in leadership of technology companies. And I think women are more collaborative than men and tend to fight less for position.

 

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