“Do you want to sell sugared water for the rest of your life? Or do you want to come with me and change the world?”
That was the famous question Steve Jobs posed to John Sculley in 1983. At the time, Sculley had risen through the ranks of Pepsi-Cola to become the brand’s youngest president. Jobs needed a business-minded expert to effectively price, market and distribute his new Macintosh. From there, one of history’s most influential business partnerships was formed.
Now, decades after that initial conversation, Apple’s yearly revenue has grown from $1 billion to more than $233 billion in 2015. Despite having a mound of cash at its disposal, the company has hit some rough shoals lately. It turned in its weakest quarterly results in more than a decade, amid underwhelming sales of its new smartwatch and waning demand for its signature products like the iPhone and iPad.
With that in mind, Sculley still sees potential for the tech giant he helped to build. This week, Sculley told CNBC that Apple could benefit from a unique partnership that could ultimately usher in a revolutionary era for global communications.
“What if the Apple Watch became the perfect device for the next generation of smart messaging services? What if Tim Cook and [Facebook CEO] Mark Zuckerberg got together and said: ‘Let’s make the Apple Watch a great platform for Facebook messaging?'” Sculley said on CNBC’s “Fast Money” this week. There appear to be no plans for such a move.
Sculley was complimentary on the Apple Watch design, but noted that its true use has not yet been established. He believes that a messaging partnership with Facebook could offer Apple a new suite of utilities to work with, and that the move could potentially inspire new confidence from investors.
Apple’s fiscal second-quarter results underscored how the company analysts once called “priced for perfection” has stumbled. Sales of the iPhone fell to 51.2 million in the period from 61.2 million a year earlier. The company’s year-over-year revenue decline was its first in 13 years.
With that as a backdrop, Sculley suggested Apple might take some pointers from Facebook’s approach.
“You can see how well Mark Zuckerberg’s 10-year vision has been received,” said Sculley, noting the Facebook founder’s recent comments on what the next decade will look like for his company. “[With] platforms as huge as Apple, Facebook and Android, people in the industry have got to know what the long-term vision is.”
Despite this, Sculley said he remained one of Cook’s most steadfast supporters.
“I’m a huge Tim Cook fan,” said Sculley. “He’s an incredibly talented executive with a great team around him.” Sculley added that he remains long on Apple’s stock, even if investors like Carl Icahn have bailed. The billionaire activist told CNBC this week that he had completely exited the iPhone maker’s stock amid worries over China.
For that reason, Sculley believes that people are beating up on Apple prematurely off the weak numbers, and that Cook is equipped to “pull genies out of the bottle” and restore confidence in the company.
Since leaving Apple in the mid-1980s (after a power struggle with Jobs and the Apple board), Sculley’s career accomplishments include becoming a founding investor with MetroPCS, advising on the launch Hotwire.com and establishing Obi Worldphone, smartphones for emerging markets.
Now, Sculley serves as chairman of PeopleTicker, a company that he believes will change the way the American workforce is structured.
“[PeopleTicker] generates real-time, validated pay rates for every skilled job in every industry in every city in the U.S.,” Sculley told CNBC in a follow-up interview.
The company is geared toward providing up-to-the-minute market rates for a variety of part-time jobs in industries like aeropspace, defense, health care, finance, government and agriculture, and clients include Hewlett-Packard and IBM. The rates are calculated using surveys from both workers and employers, proprietary algorithms, public data and labor analysts.
In this endeavor, Sculley points to estimates which indicate that 22 percent of enterprise workers are currently independent contractors. From there, Sculley sees 40 percent of the U.S. workforce being made up of independent contractors by 2020.
“These are contingent, skilled workers who are engaged often part time on a project-by-project basis,” noted Sculley, describing why a more effective system is needed for the so-called gig economy. The term was coined to describe nonpermanent employees who work on an as-needed basis. “This represents a huge shift in the U.S. workforce and how productive work gets done.”
To date, PeopleTicker exists in 10 countries and Sculley plans to bring the service to 100 countries later this year.