Following years of speculation over the state of his health, Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced Wednesday afternoon that he would step down
as head of the company, though he will stay on as chairman of the board.
One thing conspicuously missing from his farewell letter or Apple’s news release
announcing Jobs’ resignation is any mention of the departing CEO’s health. In January, Jobs announced
he was taking a leave of absence from the company for medical reasons. Jobs was first treated for pancreatic cancer in 2004
Also, though Jobs’ Wednesday statement predicts “Apple’s brightest and most innovative days are ahead of it,” the company’s news release gives only basic information about new CEO Tim Cook.
Is Apple saying enough to reassure its employees, stockholders and fervent fans? Opinion is divided.
The health issue
“I don't think Apple was open enough about this from the very beginning,” says Lex Perryman, a professor at Texas Christian University’s Neeley School of Business and co-author of the article, “When the CEO is ill: Keeping quiet or going public?”
“They shrouded it with the same mystery as a new product launch and left everyone guessing at what was wrong and the severity of it,” she says. But Apple’s explanation should have come in January, Perryman says. Because Cook has been acting CEO since January, the ship on disclosing Jobs’ health status has sailed.
Branding consultant Rob Frankel contends Apple was right to treat its CEO’s health status as it would a top-secret product.
“It's personal and doesn't affect the business,” he says. “His departure affects the business. The reason why he's departing doesn't. Once he's gone as CEO, he’s gone. Doesn't matter why.”
Still, Gary Tobin, principal at Tobin and Associates, says he’s “shocked by the lack of candor” at Apple. He says the company’s tight lips when it comes to Jobs’ health is “the stuff from which shareholder suits spring.”
Frankel says the timing of Jobs’ departure may not be entirely health-related. “Steve is taking Apple out of the line of fire by stepping aside before his biography is released,” he says. “From what I hear, the book is pretty revealing and exposes parts of Steve and Apple that aren't particularly appealing.”
Paul Rand, CEO of word-of-mouth-marketing firm Zocalo Group, asks how it could be perceived as anything other than Jobs’ health, as the company has made it rather clear that Jobs’ time at Apple was coming to an end. “I’m not picking up any degree of great surprise from anybody,” he says.
Apple’s statement that Jobs will stay on as chairman gives investors and passionate fans some reassurance, says Rand. But the question remains, “Without that visionary leadership, does it fall?”
Though the company has made some effort to introduce the public to Cook, Apple certainly could have done more to boost the institutionalized innovation in its overall culture, he says.
Perryman says the company needs to say more publicly about its new CEO. “I would have liked to see more on the transition, a stronger recommendation of Cook, discussions of an actual succession plan they had in place prior, and a statement from Cook about what he'd like to see moving forward,” she says.
Mashable published an email
from Cook to employees Thursday that offers the message that Apple “is not going to change.”
“We are going to continue to make the best products in the world that delight our customers and make our employees incredibly proud of what they do,” he wrote.
Michael Shmarak of Sidney Maxwell Public Relations says it’s clear that “Apple has done more homework than they’ve led us to believe.” Perhaps, he suggests, the company is simply waiting for its plans to align before making any big statements about its future.
“You don’t want to rush to judgment in making a statement before it comes true,” Shmarak says.
Investors and Apple fanatics will gain their reassurances, or lack thereof, from whatever product or project the company introduces under Cook’s watch.
“That’s when the stock is going to really be affected,” he says. “If he meets with a thud, it will
spark media hype of, ‘Steve would never have done that.’”
Matt Wilson is a staff reporter for Ragan.com, where this story first appeared.