Earlier this morning, Apple unexpectedly announced that the company’s iconic co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs would take a medical leave of absence. In an email to Apple employees, Jobs said that “At my request, the board of directors has granted me a medical leave of absence so I can focus on my health. I will continue as CEO and be involved in major strategic decisions for the company.”
Neither Apple nor Jobs provided more details about this decision, but as the Internet exploded with news reports about Jobs’ decision, most reporters noted that today’s announcement was likely related to Jobs’ 2009 liver transplant and his earlier leave of absence and surgery in 2004. Both of his earlier leaves were due to the pancreatic cancer his doctors discovered in 2004. Just like during his last leave, Apple’s COO Tim Cook will lead the company’s day-to-day operations.
In his email, Jobs asks for privacy, a topic of heated discussions during his last leave, as his health is – according to many – closely linked to Apple’s performance. All Things D’s Kara Swisher, however, argues that Jobs deserves his privacy this time, “because the public Steve Jobs has given his large audience more than enough since he got back the last time he was sick.” It remains to be seen if Apple’s fans and stockholders will think the same, however.
Given Jobs’ central role at Apple, it doesn’t come as a surprise that the company’s stock price quickly suffered after the news broke. In Frankfurt, the stock immediately dropped 7% from the previous day and never recovered. Undoubtedly, Apple’s announcement was timed to coincide with Martin Luther King Day, a day where the U.S. markets are closed. This should give Apple investors a chance to cool off before the markets open again on Tuesday.
The timing of today’s announcement also comes just one day before Apple is scheduled to reveal its quarterly earnings report (which most pundits expect to beat expectations) and before the company will celebrate the 10 billionth download from its app store. All of this should help ease the pressure on Apple’s stock and you don’t have to be a cynic to think that Apple considered these facts when it timed today’s announcement.
On GigaOm, Mathew Ingram wonders, however, if the stock can “withstand the absence of Steve Jobs.”
Another topic that quickly rose to prominence after the news broke was the question of Jobs’ succession. The Wall Street Journal today features a short profile of Tim Cook, calling him the company’s “CEO-in-waiting.” CNET’s Jonathan E. Skillings and Erica Ogg also note that Apple has privately acknowledged that it has a plan of success in place, but that the company refuses to make this plan public, as that would “damage the company’s ability to retain and recruit top executive talent.”
On his ITworld blog, Chris Nerney argues that, “while Jobs focuses on his health, Apple board must focus on its responsibility.” Also on ITworld, Ryan Faas wonders if Apple can “thrive without Steve Jobs at the helm.” His conclusion, after looking at Apple’s performance during Jobs’ last two leaves is that “Apple is [not] going to be slowed down in the least.”
Indeed, the general tenor in the tech world is that Cook would be a capable successor for Jobs and the right choice for filling in for him.