Privacy Debate Arises as Some Link Apple's Health to Jobs's

Steve Jobs, a 53-year-old cancer survivor, refuses to discuss his health. Some think he should, given his key role in Apple's successes.
Steve Jobs, a 53-year-old cancer survivor, refuses to discuss his health. Some think he should, given his key role in Apple's successes. (By Paul Sakuma -- Associated Press)

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By Mike Musgrove
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 24, 2008

How private a matter is Steve Jobs's health? To investors, privacy is beside the point.

On Monday, the day of Apple's quarterly earnings report, an article in the New York Post cited unnamed hedge fund investors as being "very worried" about the chief executive's health. Jobs, a 53-year-old survivor of pancreatic cancer, appears to have lost some weight, and his gaunt appearance has people talking.

In a conference call with analysts that day, Apple Chief Financial Officer Peter Oppenheimer deflected a question about Jobs's health, calling it a "private matter."

The tech company's shares fell 10 percent in after-hours trading Monday.

Shares have since rebounded, and yesterday the stock closed at $166.26.

It is unclear whether health questions caused the stock's temporary decline, as investors may have also been disappointed to hear that an upcoming "product transition" may result in lower margins over the next year.

But perhaps more than any other business leader, Jobs is associated with his company's recent successes. Securities analyst Charles Wolf with Needham & Co. said Apple's stock would probably drop 20 or 30 percent if Jobs were to leave the company.

"There is one person there who really makes that operation excel, and it is Steve Jobs," he said. "It's difficult to argue that he doesn't have superhuman powers, given what he's done over the last five years."

Jobs, who co-founded Apple in 1976, was famously ousted from his own company. Not long after his return in 1996, he took the reins as chief executive, the title he still holds. He is credited with rescuing Apple from near-bankruptcy, improving its line of computers and overseeing highly successful forays into the digital music and smartphone markets.

Wolf said that he did not think Jobs was in poor health but that the issue was "probably a story that's never going away" because Wolf thinks it is unlikely Jobs will comment on the matter.

Apple has said it has a succession plan, though it has not divulged details.

Tech industry analyst Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies, said he was skeptical that Apple has a replacement lined up.


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