Concerns about Steve Jobs’ health aren’t going away. Today’s NY Post quotes a “Wall Street source” who says hedge fund managers are still freaked out after seeing Jobs’ rail-thin appearance at the iPhone launch event last month. It also cites “multiple sources” who’ve met Steve in recent weeks and are “troubled by his thin appearance.” Reuters has now picked up the Post’s story; the wire service doesn’t add anything to the report, but the fact that it is repeating it gives it extra weight.
We’ve now heard a couple of explanations for Steve’s gaunt frame at the WWDC conference: Some reports suggest that it’s a side effect of a treatment for the pancreatic cancer he suffered in 2003. Apple itself said that Steve was sick prior to WWDC, and was on antibiotics at the time of his presentation.
We’ll take Apple at its word: Steve is OK. But his appearance, coupled with the fact that he previously didn’t disclose his cancer for 9 months, mean that he’s going to be dogged by these questions indefinitely. Apple could try quashing the issue by issuing a comprehensive health report — in the same way that presidential candidates do — but we think Steve is unlikely to accept that level of public scrutiny.
A more reasonable strategy for Apple, and one they are going to have to accept sooner or later: Lay out a real succession plan. Up until now, Apple has made vague allusions to a plan, but nothing concrete. Here’s Jobs at the company’s shareholder meeting in March, via Bloomberg:
“We’ve got great talent, and I think the board would have a few really good choices,” said Jobs, 53. “We talk about that a lot.” Candidates include [COO Tim] Cook and [CFO Peter] Oppenheimer, he said.
But at some point Apple is going to have get more specific, and convince Wall Street that it has a clear idea of what it intends to do if needs to replace Steve. Even if he’s in the the best of health — and we hope he is — he can’t run Apple forever. Time to acknowledge that, and time start figuring out what will happen when the company needs new leadership.