How Steve Jobs lost the Mac to Jean-Louis Gassée

The backstory, as Gassée tells it.

From 50 Years in Tech Part 9: Mac Hopes and Troubles:

By early 1985, Mac sales still weren’t taking off and sinking sales of the Apple ][ were to lead to the shutdown of the company’s Texas manufacturing plant and the company’s first-ever layoff. Something had to be done.

Having gained something of a foothold in the “creative space” and education applications, Jobs thought we could sell the French government on having a large local company such as Thomson take a license to build Macs and sell them to the education market, thus creating a success story and fatter numbers…

Complicated conversations with politicians, world-renowned parasites, and French industrialists went nowhere, but I got to know CEO John Sculley, who had been brought in by the Apple board to provide “adult supervision” to Jobs. A talk that Sculley gave to our staff describing Apple’s future was the best business talk I had ever heard, and I told him so. I wasn’t flattering him, it was my honest feeling and my hope for the company’s coming years.

Back in the US, things were becoming tense. To counter the Mac’s perceived and real weakness in business productivity apps, Jobs came up with the concept of a Macintosh Office including a Local Area Network (LAN), a File Server (essentially a networked hard drive), and a networked laser printer. This was vintage Jobs: A grand vision supported by a spectacular demo. Unfortunately, it was only a demo.

Deploying the kremlinology that got me hired to start Apple France (see Part 5 of this series), I addressed a pair of notes to Sculley in which I dissected Jobs’ story. The Mac Office concept was never going to become a reality (I wrote), and even if the fantasy could did true, it wouldn’t solve our Corporate America market problem.

My memos were not universally well-received, to say the least, but neither was the 1985 Mac Office. (However, the LaserWriter and the AppleTalk LAN were later to become key components of Apple’s Desktop Publishing push.)

In parallel, Apple France numbers kept improving. I never forgot to recite the La Fontaine fable of the Donkey Carrying The Saints Relics (poor donkey thought the incense was for him), and with that oratory precaution taken, our numbers gave credibility to my predictions: We soon became the company’s biggest revenue and profit generator outside the US. Because of this, US management envoys made a habit of ending their European tour with the French operation as a way to shore up their morale after visiting less happy places.

Also, strange as it may seem, I was a rarity compared to most Cupertino senior execs: I had actual, repeated computer technology experience. All of the above led to an invitation to move to Cupertino in the Spring of 1985. Or, to put it another way: “Enough criticizing. If you’re so sure, why don’t you come over and help us fix things?”

My take: Gassée, who has been using the excellent Monday Note blog to serialize his 50 Years in Tech, is getting to the good parts. Coming soon: The day he got wind of Jobs’ plot to oust CEO Sculley and warned the board of directors, setting in motion Jobs’ ouster from the Mac division.

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