Apple shares have fallen, although not as steeply as many traders had imagined, after CEO Steve Jobs announced that he was taking a six-month medical leave of absence.
My first reaction was surprise. Six months? That sounded serious. Then disgust, as Internet trolls had Jobs on his death bed. As The New York Times reports, Jobs’ condition isn’t related to his bout with pancreatic cancer. According to The Times, it’s for a different medical disorder where his digestive system is having difficult processing food.
Again, pretty serious stuff, but not the terminal disease that so many rumor-mongers and speculators were touting yesterday.
So Apple’s stock fell five percent in early Thursday trading, down to $81.23 per share. I think the real reason was Jobs' own words, when he said in his note to Apple employees that his medical issues were “more complex” than he had thought. That kind of talk fed the speculation that Jobs was facing a new battle with cancer, although subsequent reports, like The Times’, say that is not the case.
I’ll get into the financial aspects of the Jobs issue, but let’s take a look at his note to employees first.
I am sure all of you saw my letter last week sharing something very personal with the Apple community.
Unfortunately, the curiosity over my personal health continues to be a distraction not only for me and my family, but everyone else at Apple as well. In addition, during the past week I have learned that my health-related issues are more complex than I originally thought.
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.
I have asked Tim Cook to be responsible for Apple's day to day operations, and I know he and the rest of the executive management team will do a great job. As CEO, I plan to remain involved in major strategic decisions while I am out. Our board of directors fully supports this plan.
I look forward to seeing all of you this summer,
Jobs’ faith in Cook is likely well-placed. A lot of tech analysts see Cook as a CEO already well-trained in the ways of Apple, and maintain that the company shouldn’t miss a beat with Cook at the helm.
"We believe that the corporate strategy that Jobs implemented, including a strong emphasis on product design, will remain intact as Jobs will still be making strategic decisions," UBS analyst Maynard Um wrote in a research note. "We believe the leadership team Jobs assembled is more than capable to continue to execute the strategy both near and long term."
Still, Jobs is both the public and private face of Apple, and that kind of starpower isn’t easily replaced. Arguably, Jobs is more important to Apple than Michael Dell is to Dell, or Bill Gates is to Microsoft. In fact, I can’t think of a marquee CEO to compare with Steve Jobs – you’d have to go all the way back to Lee Iacocca at Chrysler, Jack Welch at GM, or Ted Turner at CNN.
So it’s not surprising to see investors sell on the news. Image does count on Wall Street, more than you think. But Apple seems to have done a decent job of keeping Jobs’ medical issues in house, only parcing out enough information to calm employees and investors down, and give Steve jobs some privacy and dignity to fight his medical issues.
That's the right thing to do.