Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs, the charismatic frontman for the company that overturned the smart phone industry and invented a new category of tablet computers, is taking a second medical leave of absence in two years.
In the last decade, Jobs, 55, has survived a rare but curable form of pancreatic cancer and undergone a liver transplant. The news from Apple that he will again step down from his day-to-day role raises serious questions about the CEO’s health.
But analysts believe the company Jobs shepherded from garage startup to a $65 billion technology trendsetter is in good hands with the current slate of talented executives – even as Apple, now the Silicon Valley player to beat, faces increasing competition.
The announcement interrupted an endless stream of new gadgets, updated gizmos and gossip about new products from the maker of the iPod, iPhone and iPad. Just last week, after years of speculation, the nation’s largest mobile carrier, Verizon Wireless, announced that it would begin selling the iPhone.
Jobs has played the role of industry oracle, seeming to know what consumers want even before they do. He is also known as a demanding and hands-on leader who is involved in even the smallest details of product development. Investors have pinned much of their faith in the company on Jobs himself, sending shares tumbling on every bit of news or rumor of his ailing health.
For now, very little is known about Jobs’ current condition. Apple did not provide any information beyond a six-sentence note from Jobs to employees announcing his leave, leaving unanswered questions about whether the CEO is acutely ill, whether the leave is related to his 2009 liver transplant or whether he is at home or in a hospital.
Unlike Jobs’ 2009 leave of absence, when he vowed to return to work in just under six months, Jobs did not say in the note made public Monday how long he would be on leave this time. He said he will continue as CEO and will be involved in major decisions. Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook will be responsible for all day-to-day operations.
“I love Apple so much and hope to be back as soon as I can,” Jobs wrote. “In the meantime, my family and I would deeply appreciate respect for our privacy.”
The company announced Jobs’ leave a day before the company is set to report quarterly earnings. U.S. stock markets were closed for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
In Europe, investors reacted sharply and Apple’s shares closed in Frankfurt a staggering 6.6 percent lower at 243 euros ($323.02).
While some analysts expect Apple shares to sink today in the U.S., many believe the company can function successfully even without Jobs in the corner office full-time – even with Apple at the forefront of a new revolution in personal computing.
In 2010, investors seemingly grew accustomed to Jobs’ extreme thinness, focusing instead on the early success of the iPad with consumers. Shares increased 53 percent last year to top $300. With Apple no doubt polishing the second version of the iPad and competition among tablet makers expected to heat up this year and next, some stockholders may fear that without Jobs, Apple could lose its lead to tablets running Google Inc.’s Android software or Microsoft Corp.’s Windows.
Analysts believe Apple has plans for several years’ worth of products in the pipeline. And Cook, who is seen as a logical eventual successor to Jobs, is no stranger to investors. He ran the Cupertino, Calif.-based company for two months in 2004 while Jobs battled pancreatic cancer, and again in 2009 during Jobs’ most recent medical leave. Apple chugged along smoothly then, releasing a new version of the iPhone and updated laptops on schedule.
Since Cook, 50, began with Apple in 1998, he has been credited with tuning Apple’s manufacturing process to solve chronic product delays and supply problems.
“Steve is clearly still the visionary behind Apple,” said Tim Bajarin of Creative Strategies, who has been covering Apple for decades.
But, Bajarin said, Cook “understands the way Steve thinks, how Steve manages. He understands Steve’s vision and probably more important than anything else, he understands Apple. And I don’t see any changes in direction or vision or execution even though Steve’s not day-to-day.”
Methodist University Hospital Transplant Institute in Memphis, which performed Jobs’ 2009 transplant, said Monday that he is not a patient. It declined to comment on his current condition.
The Washington Post contributed to this report.