Steve Jobs and Apple Inc. Will they Survive Without Each Other?

Can one man so strongly identify with a multi-billion dollar corporation so as to be considered one and the same? Some people would argue that it can happen, especially in the case of Steve Jobs and Apple. So, it is disturbing to hear that Mr. Jobs sent an e-mail to Apple employees yesterday stating, upon discovering this week that his medical issues were more complex than first thought, that he was taking a medical leave of absence until June. How will this effect Apple, its shareholders and its customers?

Last week, Steve Jobs published an open letter to the Apple community stating that he would not attend Macworld or deliver the keynote because of a “hormone imbalance” that has been the cause of his weight loss over the last year.

He continued to say that the solution was simple and straight-forward and that he had begun treatment already.

This letter to the Apple community was an exceptionally rare personal communication from the usually tight-lipped Apple chief.

In a rapid progression of events, the e-mail that was sent yesterday informed his employees of his leave of absence and that in the interim, day-to-day operations will be handled by Tim Cook, the current chief operating officer as had been the case during Jobs’s pancreatic tumor treatment and recovery in 2004.

It would seem that whatever new findings were discovered this week indicate a much more serious condition. He did confirm that he is still the CEO and will continue to play a part in “major strategic decisions” during his leave of absence.

The Apple blogsphere as well as major media publications have run stories on this headline already. Apple’s stock had dropped in after-hours trading.

This type of reaction was not entirely a surprise. How could one man influence events to such a degree? Simple, Steve Jobs is a charismatic visionary.

He understands what people want and how to get it to them. Apple’s very existence can be attributed to his keen insight to build and market the Apple I in the 70s.

He predicted that people would interact with computers through a graphic user interface and made it commercially successful, as evidenced by the success of the Mac.

Since his return to Apple in 1997, he was responsible for delivering products that were powerful, easy and fun to use such as the iMac, Mac OS X, the iPod and the iPhone.

His return saved the company from certain financial ruin. He changed the way we use computers, interact with technological devices and obtain and consume information and media such as music, television programming and movies.

This was a man who took incredible risk in his career and followed his vision to create truly amazing products.

So what now? Will Apple tail spin into dire straits and be in the same position they were over a decade ago?

Because Steve Jobs demanded such high quality and expectations from those he surrounded himself with, each of the top level executives share the same work ethic, product and company vision and professional discipline that propelled Jobs into the CEO position at Apple in the first place.

The limelight is still on Mr. Jobs because of his charisma and intuitive abilities of knowing what the people really want, predicting “the next big thing” and delivering it to his customers before his competition can count out their quarterly bonuses or schedule committee meetings. Not many can duplicate that feat or fill his shoes.

I hope that Steve gets well soon. In the midst of trying to predict what will and what won’t happen to Apple as a company, it is really important not to lose sight of the situation.

First, the company will be just fine in the short term. Most likely, products in the pipeline were envisioned and tested years ago. Jobs’s influence will be all over these products.

Second, a very talented executive team that was assembled in large part by Jobs himself, is still present and will continue to innovate and execute well without Jobs’s hands-on approach for a good while. 

Whatever new findings came to light this week may well have been the real, but hopefully not malignant, cause of his weight loss throughout 2008.

I hope that Mr. Jobs and Apple’s board will be more forthcoming and transparent in the next few months with regards to this situation. 

All we can do at this point is respect Mr. Jobs’s privacy as he requests and hope that come summer, he’ll be back on stage greeting his employees, fans, customers and everyone else with a healthy and cheerful expression on his face while introducing the latest and greatest gadget to make your world go round!

Steve, we wish you good health in this New Year and for many more years to come.

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