This is the most shocking and sad announcement of the technology industry in recent memory, news that will likely reverberate for years to come.
In an email to all Apple employees today, Steve Jobs said he was taking a medical leave of absence until the end of June because he learned that “his health-related issues are more complex” than he originally thought. The news is all the more astonishing since just nine days ago Jobs wrote in another letter that he was suffering from a “hormone imbalance” and that “the remedy for this nutritional problem is relatively simple and straightforward.”
Current chief operating officer Tim Cook will take over day-to-day operations. However, Jobs also said that he will remain CEO, and plans “to remain involved in major strategic decisions” while he is out.
I have a few reactions to this stunning announcement.
1. Not to be too macabre, but you have to wonder if Steve Jobs is at risk of dying. Has his cancer returned? If not, what exactly is wrong with him? It must be pretty bad if he has to step down.
2. If he isn’t mortally ill, you have to wonder if he’s ever coming back to Apple. Most people I’ve spoken to today assume that his days at Apple are over.
3. How much does Apple stock fall? Apple just suffered its worst-case scenario. The company has lost its visionary and highly successful leader for at least the next 6 months, and probably longer. I shudder to think what will happen to Apple’s stock tomorrow, and the stock markets in general. Apple’s stock was down 8% in the after-hours market before trading was halted in its shares. I could easily see Apple stock falling 15% to 20% tomorrow, or possibly more.
4. Can Apple’s board be trusted? This is a huge black eye to Apple’s board. Apple was already under fire for the way it’s handled this situation. Some corporate governance experts have said the company should have been more forthcoming. Now that the company had made such a stark reversal so quickly, it will be hard for investors to believe almost anything that comes from the company’s board. I would not be surprised to see a bunch of shareholder lawsuits filed over the next few days.
5. Given the speed with which Jobs health situation changed so rapidly, why did Steve Jobs even send out the Jan. 9 letter? You could argue that the Macworld conference forced his hand. Even so, the letter clearly sent the wrong message, presenting an inaccurate picture of Jobs’s health. The letter should have been much more measured in its presentation and tone, indicating that the cause of Jobs’s health problems was not totally clear.
In his letter today, Jobs closed with an optimistic note. “I look forward to seeing all of you this summer,” he wrote. I hope that is true. But it’s very hard for me to believe it will be true.