Apple's Ailing CEO Takes Leave
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Apple co-founder Steve Jobs announced yesterday that the illness he has downplayed for months even as it rendered him strikingly gaunt has turned out to be "more complex" and that he was taking a leave of absence from the company.
The decision was the latest turn in the tech icon's semi-private battle with an ailment, still undisclosed, that is testing not just his health but also his renowned capacity for controlling every detail.
It also comes as the prosperous economic era in which he launched the iPod and the iPhone -- two products that seemed to embody the epoch's infatuation with technology -- comes to a crashing close.
Jobs's long-standing reluctance to discuss details of his ailment and prognosis has infuriated some investors, and, as expected, Apple's share price plunged yesterday. In the announcement, Jobs, 53, said he would be taking medical leave until the end of June. But, he said, "as CEO, I plan to remain involved in major strategic decisions while I am out."
Even so, investors and analysts view even the partial loss of Jobs, considered a seminal figure in the industry, as a critical blow that will be felt beyond the company.
Known for his tenacious attention to product design and aspirations to countercultural chic, Jobs has driven his engineers, sometimes relentlessly, to develop simple products that have won both aesthetic and technological plaudits.
With the exception of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, few corporate leaders are as fundamental to their company's identity as is Jobs.
In 1976, he co-founded the company, which had its first startling success with the Apple II, one of the first popular personal computers. After he was forced out in a boardroom coup in 1985, when he was 30, Apple languished.
Since his return to Apple in the 1990s, he has created products that have redefined consumer technology.
With the iPod and iTunes, Apple enabled people to carry their entire catalog of music anywhere with unprecedented ease. With the iPhone, his company elegantly brought to fruition the idea of a handheld device that could be used as a phone, a computer and an Internet connection.
The design of each, as expected, was sleek and attracted most of the attention. But their creation required not just engineering excellence but also dealmaking savvy.
To create the iTunes Store, Jobs had to cut a deal with wary record companies to sell their music at 99 cents a song. Likewise, the iPhone required him to negotiate a deal with the service provider AT&T.