Apple CEO (AAPL) Steve Jobs is taking a six month medical leave to treat health-related issues that are “more complex” than he thought a week ago. Jobs will “remain involved in major strategic decisions” while he is out. But what if Steve doesn’t come back?
Apple is fine for now. The company has a superb product lineup that its rivals can only lust after.
Apple also has a deep, talented executive bench, including COO Tim Cook, who will lead Apple while Jobs is out; marketing head Phil Schiller, who gave a good Macworld keynote speech last week in Jobs’ absence; design guru Jonathan Ive; and iPhone software head Scott Forstall. This won’t change before June.
But Apple will gradually lose its lead — especially if it doesn’t quickly put in place a plan to move forward without Steve. Pundits will argue all day that Apple is more than Steve Jobs. Fine. But Steve Jobs is Apple. He might not write code or sit in chip fabs. But he makes the big, important decisions that make Apple products Apple products. New decision-makers will make choices Steve wouldn’t make. Talent will leave. Etc.
It’s always possible that there are some geniuses working at Apple that Steve Jobs is holding back — that Apple could be better without Steve. But we — and Apple shareholders, who sent the stock down 6% in after-hours trading following Apple’s announcement — are sticking with the idea that Apple without Steve is not as good as Apple with Steve.