As Steve Jobs announced his latest medical leave to his team and to the world, media speculation immediately began regarding the severity of this latest episode.
Steve Jobs is Apple and Apple is Steve Jobs. They are synonymous. The bigger question will be how will one survive without the other. In the years following Jobs’s ouster from Apple, the company reeled and was (by many accounts) weeks away from bankruptcy at one point. Apple had lost tremendous market share and the brand had become an afterthought. It took a Shakespearian return by Jobs to help turn the company around and restore its image.
Not only did he bring Apple back from death’s door, but he pushed the company into record sales and solidified it as one of the most recognizable and admired brands in the world.
His failing health has not seemed to deter Jobs from his passionate goal of providing users with “magical” devices and “incredible” user experiences. The overwhelming sales figures have been the evidence.
With Jobs at the helm, Apple has reached new heights and he has placed the company in a very advantageous position. What remains to be seen is, in his absence, how long will the company stay in that position. The trepidation that Mac users feel at the hint of a Jobsless Apple is matched only by nervous investors. Apple’s stock is at an all-time high, but ambiguity about the future of Steve Jobs health and his role at Apple, will certainly impact the stock price negatively.
Apple has never been forthcoming about a succession plan. Actually, Apple has never been forthcoming about anything, but they’ve consistently refused requests to make public a succession plan should Jobs pull away from the company. Perhaps it’s a direct order from Jobs himself or perhaps it’s a coping mechanism to keep everyone in denial about the severity of his health issues. Either way, leaving users, shareholders and customers in the dark is not something that bodes well long-term.
At some point Apple is going to have to face the music and admit that their fearless leader is not going to be at the helm forever and that they need to plan for a future without him. With this new announced medical leave, that plan should start today.