Just one week after reassuring investors, customers and fans that he is fundamentally healthy but undergoing treatment for a hormone imbalance, Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs announced this afternoon that he would take a medical leave of absence until June.
Jobs cited the “distraction” his health issues are causing the company and said “during the past week I have learned that my health-related issues are more complex than I originally thought.”
COO Tim Cook will be responsible for day-to-day operations in his absence, Jobs wrote.
Reactions varied from insistence that Jobs and Apple are merely disclosing the latest news and strategically removing Jobs’ health from the headlines to those who believe that Jobs is suffering a potentially life-threatening illness, perhaps even a recurrence of the pancreatic cancer for which he was treated – apparently successfully, at that time – in 2004.
Jobs is perhaps more closely identified with his company’s brand than any other CEO in consumer technology.
“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,” Jobs wrote in an e-mail to employees that was posted on Apple’s Web site as a “media advisory.”
“As CEO, I plan to remain involved in major strategic decisions while I am out,” Jobs added. “I look forward to seeing all of you this summer.”
Situation dire, some say
The news drew polarized reactions.
One leading analyst refused to discuss the issue on-the-record because, he said, he believed that Jobs is actually in denial about a recurrence of his pancreatic cancer and may be dying.
Rob Enderle, principal at Enderle Group, last week said much the same and said today that the latest news confirmed his speculation that Jobs’ health is worse than he and Apple are saying.
“Jobs has had a serious, ongoing medical problem,” Enderle said. “And the Apple board is covering up his health issues. He’s too ill to do the CEO job and yet he’s unwilling to allow someone he’s mentored – like Jon Rubinstein – to take over. (Rubinstein is driving product development at Palm Inc. and is said to be responsible for the new Pre handset.) Jobs is integral to Apple, from product development to pitching it at launch. That’s a serious problem for Apple – it cannot be dependent on any one person. I think it’s likely Steve Jobs is not coming back.”
“If you believe your job is critical to your health, you can understand why Jobs would fight for it,” Enderle continued. “He wouldn’t step away unless the situation was critical.”
Apple being truthful, others say
On the other hand, Carl Howe, analyst at Yankee Group, said that Jobs and Apple were being straightforward and keeping investors, employees and consumers aware of developments – and that Jobs’ letter today should be taken at face value.
“I think he took himself out of the equation for six months so, as he said, he would stop being the topic of conversation and let people get used to that,” Howe said. “Apple is taking all of the beating to its stock at once, rather than letting it affect them in drips as Jobs undergoes whatever treatment he’s taking – that’s my point, not theirs. They’re pretty much telling it as it comes. Don’t let it continue to be the story, week after week. That’ll kill you.”
“I have no reason to believe” that Jobs and Apple are hiding anything, Howe said. “It would eventually come out and that would not be good. That’s just not the kind of company they are. I wouldn’t assume he’s on his deathbed, because I don’t think he is. I think it’s a strategy to stop making it (Jobs’ health) a news topic.”
Effect on possible Nano?
And what effect would Jobs’ absence have, if a new product is introduced between now and June, such as the rumored Nano iPhone?
“A Nano iPhone is probably happening, I think it’s in the pipeline, based on supply chain reports,” Howe said. “Do I worry that not having Steve at the helm will make a difference (at launch)? No. Tim Cook’s probably one of the best operations guys in the business. I wouldn’t worry.”
Nonsense, said Enderle.
“Other than Jobs, Apple has no one who can make that product pitch effectively,” Enderle said. “The board will have to go back and examine why they ever let Jon Rubinstein go. He’s the only one who can pitch a product like he just did for Palm’s new Pre handset at CES.”