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Posted at 4:25 PM ET, 01/17/2011

What we do and don't need to know about Steve Jobs's medical leave

By Rob Pegoraro

Steve Jobs is sick again, can't do his job and needs to have his deputy fill in. That's all we know for sure from the brief statement by Jobs that Apple posted to its Web site this morning under the bland title ""Apple Media Advisory."

In it, Jobs writes that he asked Apple's board of directors for medical leave of an unstated duration. Chief operating officer Tim Cook will "be responsible for all of Apple's day to day operations," although Jobs will still "be involved in major strategic decisions." It ends with these two sentences:

I love Apple so much and hope to be back as soon as I can. In the meantime, my family and I would deeply appreciate respect for our privacy.

We've been through this before. As Cecilia Kang outlined in her post this morning, Apple's chief executive and co-founder has been through some rough patches over the last several years: one leave of absence when he had surgery for pancreatic cancer in 2004, then another in 2009 for a successful liver transplant that followed months of onlookers noting how gaunt he'd begun to appear.

Each time, Apple was slow and exceedingly selective in responding to queries. In summer 2008, a company spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal that Jobs was suffering from "a common bug," which in retrospect seems a severe understatement.

Today's 113-word statement continues that uncommunicative tradition, leaving us to guess what's gone on with Jobs. (I last saw him in person at September's event introducing the revised Apple TV; he looked twig-thin, but not more so than he had at January's iPad introduction.)

I appreciate Jobs's desire to keep his health out of the headlines. Being sick is not fun: Having to discuss your condition with strangers is even less so. It can be difficult enough to share this sort of news with friends on Facebook, much less with the Web-reading public. Jobs's $1-a-year salary (with notable benefits) does not erase those issues.

But while the details of Jobs's health are a private matter, his ability to do his job is not. He's more than Apple's chief executive -- he's the face of the highest-valued tech company in the world. He functions as its chief in-house critic, demanding constant tweaks to products; he serves as its top salesman at product launches; most recently, he's become its most popular customer-service rep, answering random e-mails from strangers about the company's products.

And Apple's other chief executives between Jobs's 1985 departure and his 1997 return -- John Sculley, Michael Spindler and Gilbert Amelio -- were not nearly as effective at the job.

Cook should be able to do an excellent job as Apple's interim head, to judge from the Compaq and IBM veteran's stewardship during the 2009 leave. But this understudy will assuredly not be performing the role of Steve Jobs. Only Steve Jobs can do that.

We don't need a Keynote presentation on what's ailing Jobs. But Apple could at least say why it doesn't know how long Jobs expects to be out, even if that requires naming a particular malady.

Yes, that kind of statement would only invite follow-up questions. But if any company can placidly ignore queries from the public, over and over and over, it's Apple.

In the same way, Apple could stand to provide a little clarity about its succession plans. At 55, Jobs is far from retirement. (Berkshire Hathaway Chief Executive Warren Buffett, a Post Co. director, didn't say he'd named a successor until he was 75.) But Jobs hasn't had a typical 55-year-old's health over the past few years, either. Apple might as well confirm the obvious and say that Cook is next in line, even if that seems a little ghoulish.

Why focus on a worst-case scenario? I heard Jobs himself say something along those lines when he gave the commencement speech at my sister-in-law's graduation from Stanford University's business school in 2005: Live and act as if you won't be around tomorrow.

But I hope he will. Be well, Mr. Jobs.

By Rob Pegoraro  | January 17, 2011; 4:25 PM ET
Categories:  Apple, The business we have chosen  
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Comments

I always loved essay questions on tests in high school. One was always able to conceal one's lack of knowledge about a topic by just throwing a bunch of words onto the page. I don't know why that comes to mind sometimes when I read the Post.

Posted by: getjiggly2 | January 17, 2011 4:38 PM | Report abuse

Get well soon Mr. Jobs.

Posted by: jtsw | January 17, 2011 4:48 PM | Report abuse

Jobs formally submitted a request for a medical leave of absence and asked for privacy. That should be that. It is not anyone's business not stockholders, board members, or the press.

HIPPA

Posted by: scott_levine | January 17, 2011 5:29 PM | Report abuse

We may not know what the next iPad will look like, but it doesn't take an Apple Store Genius to read between the lines and see what's going on. I know you're in the press so you can't print presumptive information - but just between us readers, we know what this means.

The cancer has returned in some form, and the treatment is going to be debilitating. And that's the assuming the best case scenario. The third re-occurrence is not a good sign, and it raises the chances that Steve will never again be as healthy as he is today.

The wording of the press release may seem to leave some business questions up in the air that would be better tied down. But I would guess that this release was dictated by, or at least approved by Steve. This is all he wants to say right now, and at this time I think the company is deferring to Steve.

Still, I'm praying for the best.

Posted by: RicBrennan | January 17, 2011 5:39 PM | Report abuse

Steve Jobs is not so much "sick" and therefore worthy of comment as head of a trend-setting company as he is disastrously ill and facing a terrible and deadly illness. While he is, on the one hand, a person of interest, he is, on the other, a human being like any of us but trying to deal with one of the scariest challenges imaginable for anyone, namely pancreatic cancer. He has beaten the odds living until now and I believe it would be worthy of us all to give him space to deal with this disease further.
Alistair, Oncology RN

Posted by: Alistairville | January 17, 2011 6:04 PM | Report abuse

I am not a fan of Steve Jobs
and I am not a fan of Apple products and philosophy -

That being said - get well and best wishes to Steve Jobs and his friends & family.

Posted by: daveque | January 17, 2011 6:43 PM | Report abuse

Who's gonna make all the fun stuff?

Posted by: moxiemom | January 17, 2011 6:46 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Jobs, my best wishes!
I really respect your $1 per year salary at Apple.

Posted by: dummy4peace | January 17, 2011 7:37 PM | Report abuse

Maybe he has eye problems: he can’t see going to work since he’s a billionaire.

Posted by: newsboy3 | January 17, 2011 8:29 PM | Report abuse

I wish Mr. Jobs well; and thank him for his outstanding technology contributions over the years.

Posted by: AnnsThought | January 17, 2011 8:57 PM | Report abuse

Your comments about making succession plans public are spot on. (What if, God forbid, he were hit by a bus crossing the street? Or assaulted by Michael Dell?) Then the market could thrash around until it compensated for that information, and Apple’s stock price would become less volatile.

Mr. Jobs should be the first person to want his company to survive him, irrespective of how long that ends up being.

Posted by: 54Stratocaster | January 17, 2011 9:16 PM | Report abuse

Stevve Jobs is dying as does everyone who has the catastrophic fate of pancreatic cancer. The five year survival rate is 4.5 percent, so Jobs has already beaten the odds.

My guess is that this is the endgame but he has chosen secrecy as is his right. Anyone who is optimistic, hasn't been paying attention to the fact that he has already needed a liver transplant.

I'm not really concerned over investors, because anyone who didn't know all of the above must be picking their stocks from TV commercials or because they have an Iphone.

If you're shocked by tomorrow's drop in price, then you're not an investor and you should stick to mutual funds.

Good luck Steve, it was a helluva ride!

Posted by: johnmarshall5446 | January 17, 2011 9:30 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: JereSimpson | January 17, 2011 11:20 PM | Report abuse

Steve Jobs is a zombie. The real Steve Jobs died on the operating table having a liver transplant. If he ever stops taking the anti-rejection drugs his body will reject the transplant and he goes back to the grave.

Posted by: godismyshadow | January 18, 2011 5:06 PM | Report abuse

Steve Jobs is a brilliant entrepreneur and can certainly be credited with building a firm that is an important part of the U.S. economic recovery. His mark on Apple's award winning and intuitive products is indelible. Those who criticize Apple's computers, music players, phones and touch screen devices obviously do so blindly, they clearly have never enjoyed them for even 5 minutes. The rapidly growing pool of Mac product users of all ages, worldwide, enjoy devices that eliminate the frustration and complexity in all previous PC's, software, and entertainment tools. Apple's contribution to the creative fields, global tech industry and investment markets is also unprecedented. Thank you so much, Steve, you certainly deserve a little time off after so much hard work!

Posted by: thw2006 | January 18, 2011 8:59 PM | Report abuse

Steve Jobs is a class act, a true gentleman. Not a reality TV celebrity. If it is revealing, humiliating, personal tragic information you want, watch that sickening "entertainment" channel, Bravo.

Posted by: kbayham | January 20, 2011 6:19 PM | Report abuse

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