For some months now, the Tech World has been humming with rumours surrounding the health of Apple CEO Steve Jobs. Since looking pale, gaunt and less-than-CEO-like in recent appearances and having already recovered from pancreatic cancer once, speculation that his health might be in terminal decline has troubled more than just Apple’s PR.
Its share price has suffered heavily from outbursts of diagnosis from tech-writers, despite Apple’s consistent rejection of claims of any specific problem.
When it was announced late last year that Jobs wouldn’t be delivering the annual keynote (Stevenote, as it’s known…) at the MacWorld expo, stocks took a further plunge and online coverage reached a ghoulish frenzy.
Jobs finally and grudgingly broke his silence on the matter yesterday with a letter to the ‘Apple Community’, in which he explained his weight loss away to a “hormone imbalance”, for which he is now undergoing treatment.
As he put it in his close, "…now I’ve said more than I wanted to say, and all that I am going to say, about this”. So, his recuperation was sole reason for him missing the keynote, which will now be delivered by his number two, Phil Schiller; moreover, Jobs gets to spend Christmas with his family for a change rather than preparing for the Keynote. Seems reasonable…
Most extraordinary though, was the market reaction to these 306 words.
Apple stock immediately jumped 6% up on publication and shareholders found it hard whether to exhale with relief at Jobs’ health or whoop with joy at making some fast money.
The question on all investors' minds however, must be what happens in a post-Jobs Apple. He has propagated a Messianic persona which envelops the company he helped to found.
When other Apple executives are permitted any visibility at public events (such as design guru Jonathan Ive) it is almost always as a sidekick. That a single letter from a CEO can bump stock up so much must be a cause of concern for investors. That the commercial success of Apple can apparently be so contingent on the health of one man is a precarious position.
Whether it’s cancer, honourable retirement or being hit by a Greyhound bus - shareholders can be certain that one day Jobs will leave Apple.
Currently, this P.T. Barnum of nerds has no obvious replacement. When Phil Schiller takes the stage at Macworld later today, it’s surely as more than just an understudy, but an audition for the leading man role.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Stevenote tradition, here’s some footage of him first introducing a particularly important new device…