The former CEO of Apple describes a remarkable conversation between Steve Jobs and Bill Gates that changed the way he thought about business

The phrase

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The phrase “noble cause” was thrown around quite a bit.
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Joi Ito/Flickr

John Sculley had only been CEO of Apple for a few months when he found himself sitting around Macintosh’s engineering lab with Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.

At some point, the discussion turned to the future of the tech industry. For the most part, Sculley sat and listened. He was struck by how the two tech founders described their work. The phrase “noble cause” was thrown around quite a bit.

Sculley said he didn’t really know what to make of the conversation, at first.

It was 1983. He had come to Apple from Pepsi. During his tenure as marketing vice president and later as CEO, he oversaw the soda giant’s clash against Coke during the cola wars.

“I thought business success was all about someone wins and someone loses,” Sculley told Business Insider. “I sat there kind of like, ‘What are they talking about?’ There’s no noble cause that I ever saw in business. One person wins and the other person loses.”

For Jobs and Gates, however, their “noble cause” was to create a revolutionary new industry, nearly from scratch.

“They were going to change the world one person at a time,” Sculley said. “They were going to build tools for the mind and they were going to empower knowledge workers with this incredible productivity. While they disagreed on many things, they completely agreed on this noble cause.”

While he may have been skeptical at first, Sculley said the conversation between Jobs and Gates would ultimately change the way he thought about business.

Nowadays, Sculley’s found another noble cause to pursue, he told Business Insider editor-in-chief Alyson Shontell. He’s chairman of healthcare startup RXAdvance, which seeks to blend the fields of high tech and healthcare in order to benefit patients, lower healthcare costs, and fix the US healthcare system. Sculley said it’s on track to scale to as much as $15 billion by 2020.

Part of Sculley’s drive to tackle this new project stems from to that long ago conversation with Gates and Jobs.

“That’s stayed with me all these decades later,” Sculley said.