Entrepreneurs need to 'break the rules'

Chee Sing Chan
25 Sep 2013

From 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 seeany 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.

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