As Jobs takes medical leave again, questions on Apple's future arise
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Steve Jobs, the iconic chief executive of Apple who has battled serious health problems for years, said Monday that he is taking another medical leave of absence, raising questions about whether the country's most highly valued technology company can prosper without its leader.
The announcement that the creator of the iPod, iPhone and iPad would step aside - without revealing the extent of his medical problems or how long he'll be on leave - prompted criticism from some analysts that Apple was betraying its obligations to tell its shareholders important information.
Jobs, a survivor of pancreatic cancer and recipient of a liver transplant, two conditions known to cause a variety of complications, sent a message to Apple employees Monday saying that the company's board "granted me a medical leave of absence so I can focus on my health." He added that he would continue to be involved in major decisions but would give up day-to-day control.
Since founding Apple in 1976, Jobs has been known for a nearly fanatical attention to detail - caring as much about the appearance of his products as how they function - that makes him unique among many technology executives.
He has fostered a culture at Apple that has allowed the company, which was months from bankruptcy in 1997 when he returned to the helm after a long hiatus, to edge out bigger rivals and dominate the market for smartphones and music players.
Critics say Jobs's decision to go on leave without providing more details gives the company's shareholders little insight into what the future holds for Apple as its rivals, such as Google and Microsoft, fight hard to capture some of the success of the iPhone and iPad.
"For better or worse, Steve Jobs represents Apple," said Charles Elson, a corporate governance professor at the University of Delaware. "I wish we would have more disclosure here. I wish the board let the investors know what they know at this point."
An Apple spokesman declined to comment on the question of disclosure.
Jobs, 55, has suffered in the past decade from two serious medical conditions. In 2004, he disclosed he had surgery to remove a rare form of pancreatic tumor. In 2009, he had a liver transplant.
John Fung, chairman of the Digestive Disease Institute at the Cleveland Clinic, said possible complications from the surgeries are numerous, including rejection of the transplant, infections and the development of diseases such as diabetes.
Fung, who hasn't treated Jobs and cautioned that every case is unique, estimated that the five-year survival rate for a patient such as Jobs would be about 50 percent.
Rajesh Ghai, an analyst with investment bank ThinkEquity, said that Apple is widely perceived as inseparable from Jobs but that during more than 10 years, many of his lieutenants have learned Jobs's style.