How a former Apple CEO reinvented himself in healthcare tech
2024-07-18 07:35:20

As Apple extends its reach into healthcare, the tech giant will be competing with its onetime chief executive.

John Sculley, who served as CEO of Apple from 1983 to 1993 and before that as president of PepsiCo, is now trying to upend the healthcare industry with RxAdvance, a cloud-based pharmacy benefits platform.

"This is the most important thing I’ve done since I was involved at Apple," Sculley told Mashable. "It's the most exciting time in my life."

Sculley, founding partner of RxAdvance, called Mashable to talk about the future of healthcare, why health tech startups aren't tackling the big picture and what entry into healthcare means for Apple.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Why was healthcare the next industry you wanted to tackle?

After Apple, I'd gotten involved with mobile wireless services through MetroPCS and I learned how to work in a regulated industry. Then I got involved in fintech, which is also a regulated industry.

SEE ALSO:This startup says it can save you thousands in medical bills

I got interested in healthcare nine-and-a-half years ago. Bob Metcalfe, who invented Ethernet, told me you have to reinvent yourself every 10 years — that influence, and what I'd learned from Steve Jobs and Bill Gates in the early '80s. We were talking one evening in the Mac Lab about the "noble cause." I'd never heard the words noble cause in business, because I'd come from the cola wars, where the purpose in business was to be successful at the expense of the competition. The idea of a noble cause, a societal context to it, was an entirely new idea to me in the early '80s.

Mashable ImageFormer Apple CEO John Sculley.Credit: john sculley

As I thought about reinventing myself nine-and-a-half years ago, I was interested in healthcare. It's unsustainable in its present form, especially in an aging society as we have now. My biggest project is RxAdvance.

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We're in a confusing time right now for the healthcare industry. What does the unclear future of the Affordable Care Act mean for health tech startups and companies like yours?

I think we can be a strong advocate that the U.S. healthcare system can be transformed with the same kind of innovation we’ve seen in other industries. Healthcare has missed it. Commerce, media, communications, music and entertainment have taken advantage of cloud, mobility, data analytics, AI, machine learning, the ability to use sensors in rapid deployment. Healthcare missed all of this.

The high-tech industry has not taken the time to understand the complexity of healthcare. It's rules-based and special-interest driven. It's very illogical. It has laws and regulations that aren't the real best solution but are what could be negotiated at the time.

SEE ALSO:Can Uber help Obamacare? The White House hopes so

In order to understand how to bring and adapt technologies that worked so well in other industries, that requires tech innovators to go through the deep learning curve of the healthcare industry. I’ve done that for 10 years, connecting the dots between the healthcare industry, the high-tech industry and the role of the consumer. We're very focused on how we can connect those dots and get something implemented.

If you look at the many digital health companies, very few have the business model to turn into a large, successful company. It's easy for tech entrepreneurs to get excited about the next shiny object. Look at how continually improving wearables products are. They're doing it better and better, and a sector of the wellness market really likes these products. But there really aren’t many good examples of digital health companies solving big problems.

We've seen Apple move into healthcare more and more with the Apple Watch, the HealthKit framework and other projects. Was the healthcare industry ever part of the discussion when you were at Apple?

Not at all, it never crossed any discussion I was in. I’m glad to see Apple doing it, I'm glad to see other companies moving into the space.

What does it mean for healthcare to have a giant like Apple move into the industry?

It's a great thing for Apple to do. Products like the Apple Watch, people are hoping to see it do more. Apple has expressed the importance of health tech in the unregulated space. I expect Apple will start to find more useful things for the Apple Watch, and HealthKit can be part of the whole solution.

You mentioned that health tech entrepreneurs aren't tackling the big problems in healthcare. Why is that, and what should they be doing?

People in digital health have to be willing to do the heavy lifting of learning how the healthcare system really works. It's tempting for entrepreneurs to say, 'I can build a cool product and measure a lot of different things.' They haven’t taken that same philosophy to say how to solve problems for people who are sick, and not just for people who are well who want to measure their fitness. Companies making wearable devices, for example, are going to get smarter to solve problems for people who are sick, not just people who are well.