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Steve Jobs Is Sicker Than We Thought. Now What?

Apple chief executive Steve Jobs will be taking a little more time off from work -- he now won't return to the job until July, because his health issues have become "more complex" than thought before.

The news first came via leaks of an e-mail Jobs sent to employees; later this afternoon, the company posted that e-mail to its site:

Unfortunately, the curiosity over my personal health continues to be a distraction not only for me and my family, but everyone else at Apple as well. In addition, during the past week I have learned that my health-related issues are more complex than I originally thought.

In order to take myself out of the limelight and focus on my health, and to allow everyone at Apple to focus on delivering extraordinary products, I have decided to take a medical leave of absence until the end of June.

As with Jobs' most recent cryptic disclosure about his health, not even two weeks ago, this one raises more questions than it can answer -- or should have to. For starters, just what is this "hormonal imbalance" Jobs is dealing with? (See WebMD's largely unsuccessful attempt to decipher that detail.) Without knowing that, there's no knowing if Jobs' estimate of a July return is correct or not.

Another unanswered question: What happens if things take another turn or two for the worse? Is there a plan for succession here? Even the best corporate leaders aren't immortal.

I won't try to speculate on those issues. I will, however, venture a couple of guesses about what will happen to Apple without Jobs running the show.

First, the company should be fine even without Jobs to stand on a stage and show off new products. Apple's hardware and software generally sells not because it's well presented, but because it works elegantly and efficiently. And it's not like Jobs is the only person in the business who's good at this. I thought Apple marketing vice president Phil Schiller did a fine job at Macworld Expo earlier this month, and at CES Palm's executive chairman Jon Rubinstein showed he'd learned a trick or two from his old employer, Apple, when unveiling the new Prē smartphone.

Second, Apple may not do as well without Jobs playing his role as editor-in-chief of its products. From the company's early days, he's been a detail-obsessed nitpicker who keeps looking for ways to make a new computer or program a little better. (The only time I met him face to face, at the opening of Apple's Tysons Corner store, he went on for a minute or so about the optimized arrangement of the HVAC system in the store's ceiling.) Apparently, this can making working for him a bit of an ordeal, but it also has resulted in simple, enjoyable products with more "a-ha" moments than the competition. So I hope that Jobs has been teaching his colleagues well.

I'd like to see Apple provide more clarity about Jobs' health -- covering this can feel like a latter-day version of Kremlinology. That would be the smart, responsible thing to do, and I'll close with that point. Also this: Get well soon, Mr. Jobs.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  January 14, 2009; 8:00 PM ET
Categories:  Mac  
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Get well soon, Steve...

Posted by: jerkhoff | January 14, 2009 8:55 PM | Report abuse

I'm an unabashed i-Pod fan, and I too wish Mr. Jobs only the best of health. What I find intriguing is that Mr. Jobs is a great rarity in corporate America today. He's a CEO of a major corporation and as such, he is instantly recognizable as the face of that organization. Apart from Bill Gates (now retired) and Warren Buffet, can John Q. Public name three others? (Mike Bloomberg doesn't count. He had to run for mayor to become famous.) Think about it. All these top execs making salaries movie stars would envy and they're almost completely anonymous.

Posted by: hughabramson | January 14, 2009 8:59 PM | Report abuse

Steve deserves a fast recovery and good health. He has made the world a more friendly place.

Posted by: onlyacitizen | January 14, 2009 9:58 PM | Report abuse

For those of you who haven't seen it before, Steve's 2005 commencement address at Stanford is worth watching. He talks about his pancreatic cancer and the lessons he drew from it.

Posted by: jwillner1 | January 14, 2009 10:20 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Jobs, I wish you get well soon. We Apple fans love you.

Posted by: sayNo2MS | January 15, 2009 8:46 AM | Report abuse

First of all, even non-Apple fans like myself only wish Jobs the best of health and a speedy recovery.

The question is not whether Apple will be okay as a company...of course it will be. The issue is whether Apple's products and stock price can still justify their "cool premium" without Jobs day-to-day involvement.

Like all cults of personalities, Apple has actively promoted Jobs and Apple as inextricably linked. Having refused to create a line of succession, AAPL either has to fully disclose the nature of the illness (hormone imbalance is a ruse) or expect to see its premium disappear.

Posted by: hoos3014 | January 15, 2009 9:47 AM | Report abuse

I, too, wish Steve the best of health. That's the foremost thing.

If I were Jobs I would see if the other Steve would pinch hit for a few months. Or ask Guy. Apple, more than the other companies, is a cult and a cult is tough to maintain when the leader goes.

Posted by: robin17 | January 15, 2009 10:25 AM | Report abuse

I wish Steve Jobs all the best, for sure. His presence will be missed.

His sickness is likely quite serious. Recall how he approached his pancreatic cancer -- he refused all medical treatment and said he'd cure cancer with a change of diet. Fortunately he eventually changed his mind and got treatment. All this was hidden -- only after he survived did Apple announce his brush with death.

Will Apple survive? Of course. But it's known that Apple hasn't groomed anyone for Apple-after-Jobs. It's even in their investment disclosures. This is a colossal mistake, possibly related to Jobs' own decisions. Other famous CEO's, such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett made clear transition plans in the face of the inevitable.

God speed, Apple and Mr. Jobs.


Posted by: chrisviking | January 15, 2009 10:31 AM | Report abuse

What premium? Apple's stock has been in decline since the onset of market instability. The price has been more than halved.

Nor is it true there isn't a cast of likely successors. Tim Cook, Phil Schiller, Jonny Ive or others could take over in a shake of dogcow's tail. (Not that hoos3014, obviously not an Apple follower, would know what that is.)

It is unfortunate that some people are already looking to profit by Steve's illness by claiming he has withheld information or otherwise materially impacted the stock intentionally.

Steve Jobs' has one job now, getting well.

Posted by: query0 | January 15, 2009 10:40 AM | Report abuse

Sell your shares now. When Jobs does not come back the internecine battles of the 90's will resurface. The product line will become bloated with redundant offerings from a plethora of product managers. No Jobs return ... share price $13.63. This is the end of Apple.

Posted by: airedale1 | January 15, 2009 11:00 AM | Report abuse

Best wishes to Steve Jobs. He has every right to keep his health a private matter. But as a publicly traded company, Apple can't expect investors and the media to swallow onflicting and vague statements without some skepticism. They are only doing their job.

At 15 times earnings Apple is still trading at somewhat of a premium, at least compared to the rest of the market.

Posted by: loux24 | January 15, 2009 11:41 AM | Report abuse

Analysts and airedale1's. Gotta love 'em. Wish I had a job where I could make lots of money by always being wrong.

Steve Jobs breaks wind in Cupertino, and an analyst in Boston or New York claims he can smell it, then proceeds to opine that something serious must be wrong at Apple. What other CEO has to put up with that crap?

Every major corporation has a succession plan. Think Steve wants to listen to the stuff he has to put up with for ever? At some point, he's going to want to step back a little, maybe take a seat on the board, like he did at Disney, help with strategic decisions, and let someone else put up with the Wall Street quarterly proctology exams, the psychosis of our financial system deluxe. At that point I suppose AAPL will overnight be worthless, correct? When he had surgery, Apple was in real danger of going bankrupt, right?

As to criticizing the board, the board has some smart guys on it. Mickey Drexler, CEO at J.Crew who engineered the major expansion of Gap in the '90's, and defines the quintessential merchant. Or how about Art Levinson, CEO at Genentech, and who can be proven on paper to be one of the smartest scientists in the world. Analysts and some of the guys posting on this thread currently criticizing both Steve and the board have no f$^#ing idea what they're talking about, but then they're the same guys who think like the Apple board in 1994 who were trying to turn it into a box company like IBM until Michael Price stood at the microphone at the shareholders meeting and said he was going to withhold proxy unless the board resigned (ie. someone with balls), or Michael Dell, who in 1999 said "Apple was going to disappear in 6 months", or the clown at Putnam in 2000 who said "Apple is a crappy stock". Unless I'm mistaken, 22-some odd Billion $US in the bank, no debt, a worldwide retail franchise which Dell or the crappy PC "that comes in a box with moo-cow colors on it" couldn't execute on, a phone that you can't buy at the AT&T store because they always sell out leaving the crappy Nokias and Ericssons which nobody wants, and a great brand, entertainment, music. If Apple decided to buy out Larry Flynt and go into the porn business, they'd probably execute perfectly on that too.

Most analysts are wrong all the time (although Cramer called the 8500 on the Dow), but even he's wrong most of the time. And don't forget the shorts, although even a chimp with a PC and an ETrade account can short a stock on the way down. Give all the analysts (and the Apple/Jobs haters) an accordion and a monkey with a tin cup on a leash. Then I think we'd have them in the jobs they're really qualified for.

Posted by: Yehudahellcares | January 16, 2009 12:09 AM | Report abuse

Apple has its hands full swimming upstream in this economy. Investors are a frightened, confused bunch with a hair trigger on the SELL button. Apple needs to tell the truth, if one is known, as medical outcomes are often unpredictable. It also needs to publicly state the reasons why Jobs' departure will not harm the company. Soon.

Posted by: mymymichl | January 16, 2009 2:44 PM | Report abuse

I wish the best to Steve Jobs for a full recovery. He is such an intelligent man, and he and his crew are always thinking of something new.

He should take care of his health so he can come back strong and healthy. Maybe, like the other reader said, the 'other Steve' will take over for a while.

Apple will still keep going. Jobs has built up a strong company with a lot of people in the background. Of course, the main 'face' Apple has is Mr. Jobs.

I will be praying for Steve's recovery...and still supporting his company.

Posted by: eyeglasses | January 16, 2009 6:39 PM | Report abuse

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