John Sculley: The consumerisation of healthcare will be bigger than the PC revolution

The man that put Pepsi on a global stage, helped develop the first personal computer, and boosted Apple sales by tenfold explains why he has shifted focus to disruptive healthcare

“If you truly want to transform the world, it begins with the pursuit of a noble cause,” asserts John Sculley, as we sit down during his recent sojourn in Dubai. It is this keen pursuit of the ‘noble cause’ coupled with his insatiable curiosity and marketing savvy, that defines Sculley’s seismic career growth, reaching the pinnacle of Pepsi’s leadership to become its youngest president, a role he held between 1977 to 1983.

He is best known for catapulting Pepsi from its position as a regional stronghold to national prominence through ingenious marketing tactics, such as the ‘Pepsi Challenge’ – arguably the world’s first disruptive marketing stunt, and one that continues to be referenced in academic and business literature.

Despite not being a bona fide techie, Apple aggressively courted Sculley, recognising his intrinsic marketing genius, commercial acumen and leadership ability. All it took was one candid question from Steve Jobs: “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?” to convince Sculley to get on board.

And the future of computing and consequently our lives, was changed forever. During his decade-long leadership as Apple’s chief executive, Sculley formed an enviable dream team with the visionary Steve Jobs, boosting Apple’s sales tenfold from US$800 million to US$8 billion.

Simple apps and small information snippets can radically alter the healthcare statistics around birth and pregnancy

John Sculley

The man who developed the precursor to today’s personal digital assistant, The Newton, back in 1980s (“it was twenty years ahead of its time”) and foresaw much of what we know today as the modern-day Internet and computing, could have easily rested on his laurels as one of the business world’s most accomplished and storied veterans. Yet Sculley, now 76, remains an active entrepreneur and investor, focussing much of his mind and money towards spearheading disruptive innovation in healthcare.

According to Sculley, healthcare presents one of the biggest market opportunities for disruptive innovators to create truly transformational business. He asserts: “Digital health and the consumerisation of healthcare is going to be bigger than the PC revolution.” Sculley, whose strategic investments in recent years include an array of health-technology startups such as Audax Health, SleepMed and wearables manufacturer Misfit, believes that leveraging creative customer-centric technology can drive fundamental change in healthcare.

Mobile, cloud computing, sensors and data analytics will soon allow real-time access to individual health and wellness information not just for the person in question, but also to other stakeholders with a vested interest in a person’s vital signs and health status, such as family members, an employer or an insurance provider; making such integrated technology fundamental to management of an individual’s and population’s health.

newton computer
The Newton, Apple's first personal computer, paved the way for the PalmPilot and Apple's future products, the iPhone and the iPad

“It's not just about automating the processes in today’s healthcare system,” he says, “it’s about innovating and reinventing the healthcare system to make it much more patient-centric." Case in point: MDLIVE-a Florida-based telehealth company in which Sculley holds a stake--is experiencing tremendous growth and customer satisfaction. “A typical face-to-face doctor visit costs US$150 but with MDLIVE, a virtual visit typically costs less than US$50.

The value proposition, for the individual consumer, for the employer mandated to provide insurance and for a healthcare industry burdened with high inflation, is clear,” he states. Sculley vouches that in a few years, telemedicine and online mental health services will be considered mainstream, as people will increasingly turn to the Internet for confidential counseling and routine medical care.

Sculley is also passionate about democratising access to healthcare through smartphones. “The smartphone is an ideal channel to deliver healthcare information to people living in truly remote, impoverished settings. Simple apps and small information snippets can radically alter the healthcare statistics around birth and pregnancy.”

He aims to do just that through one of his latest ventures, Dubai-headquartered Obi Mobiles, which produces high-quality and affordable smartphones targeted towards the youth and growing middle-income segments in emerging markets including India, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia.

His prognosis for the future of digital health in Dubai? “Dubai and the Middle East in general is a place that doesn't have a burden of archaic regulations and complex stakeholder politics that the Western world has. As a “greenfield”, it represents an opportunity for the government, key stakeholders, medical professionals and digital health players to come together and collaboratively create the building blocks for the healthcare system of the future. Dubai is determined to establish itself as a smart city and healthcare is the perfect industry to reflect that aspiration.”