Apple Explores CEO Succession Plans

Apple’s board of directors is reportedly speaking to executive recruiters about a CEO succession, in a possible sign the company is planning ahead for a time when Steve Jobs may not be able to perform his duties.

The Cupertino, Calif.-based company’s directors said they spoke to outside parties, which also included at least one other high-profile technology company’s leader, as part of an informal exploration on its options.

The board’s conversation with recruiters may appease some shareholders, who have said they want more information about Apple’s succession plans. However, it may also make others nervous, since it may indicate Apple is concerned about functioning without Jobs at its helm.

Unlike other companies’ CEOs, Jobs is closely bonded with Apple’s identity and operations, and the matter of who will succeed him is vital to the company’s interests.

Jobs, 56, has been on medical leave since January, when he said he was taking time off for an unnamed ailment. He remains board chairman and maintains an active role in the company, but has handed off many of his duties as chairmen to others.

In 2004, Jobs was on leave while fighting pancreatic cancer, and took another medical absence in 2009 while undergoing a liver transplant. While he gave timelines for his returns during his previous illnesses, he has not said when he plans to come back this time.

Apple COO Tim Cook, who has been managing Apple’s operations while Jobs is on leave, is said to be a leading candidate for Jobs’ position. Cook also managed the company during Jobs’ other medical leaves. But with talking with executive recruiters, the board of directors is still putting more thought into the CEO succession, and may not have ruled out bringing someone new aboard.

With Apple’s ongoing upgrades to the iPhone and iPad, Apple’s profits may continue to climb with or without Jobs at the helm. Apple recently announced record-level revenues for the second quarter, and the upcoming release of the iPhone 5 may mean more profits for Apple as the year ends.

Historically, millions of people rush to buy the newest iPhones when they come out, and insiders expect the new iPhone 5, reportedly being released this fall, to be no exception to the rule.

Apple’s continued success may also depend on the company’s ability to retain top talent, but it has seen a group of key employees leave this year for other ventures.

Retail chief Ron Johnson plans to leave in November to take over J.C. Penney’s top spot. And, according to the Wall Street Journal, marketing communications vice-president Allison Johnson left in March to co-found her own firm. Former Mac software engineering chief Bertrand Serlet also left the company.

Jobs remains closely associated with Apple’s innovation and success. Even though he is on medical leave, he continued work on the company’s signature products, particularly the iPhone and iPad. He has made occasional public appearances, including a highly-publicized launch in March for the iPad 2, but if Jobs leaves Apple, the company may have a great deal of work to do to make investors that Apple’s operations will remain strong.

This post originally appeared at Mobiledia.

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