The mystery surrounding Apple CEO Steve Jobs' health issues has been solved. But on the eve of his return to the helm of the company he founded, the mystery of what happens to Apple in a post-Jobs era is still a matter of speculation.
Jobs had a liver transplant about two months ago, confirmed Dr. James Easton, program director at Methodist University Hospital Transplant Institute in Memphis, Tenn., and chief of transplantation. Jobs was the sickest patient of his blood type in line for a liver transplant. Easton said Jobs is recovering well and has an "excellent prognosis."
The Methodist institute performed 120 liver transplants last year, making it one of the 10 largest liver-transplant centers in the United States. The hospital's one-year patient and graft survival rates are among the best in the nation and were a dominant reason in Jobs' choice of transplant centers, Easton said. However, many patients die within a year of a transplant.
Jobs' Medical History
In January, Jobs took a six-month leave of absence to take himself out of the limelight and focus on his health -- and to allow Apple to focus on executing product delivery. At that time, Jobs said his leave would extend to the end of June.
A survivor of pancreatic cancer, Jobs' decision to step down followed speculation, analysis and finger-pointing around his health after he continued to lose weight last year. It was initially reported that a hormone imbalance was the culprit, but later Jobs admitted the issues were more complex than once thought. There was even a misprinted obituary about Jobs.
Jobs may not return full-time, either. Tim Cook, Apple's COO, has been trying to fill Jobs' CEO shoes since January. Industry watchers expect Cook to continue that role for some period after Jobs returns. Apple has performed well in the public markets since Jobs' departure. The company's shares have risen 68 percent in the past six months.
Apple's 'Steve' Conundrum
Jobs is integrated in everything from product design to component negotiations and serves as the primary pitchman for Apple's innovations. In that respect, there's no other CEO quite like Jobs, according to Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.
"If more CEOs took more interest in their products, we'd have better products on the market," Enderle said. "But Steve's involvement creates an interesting problem because the only person that was trained to replace him, Jon Rubinstein, is running Palm. There really is nobody else within Apple with the unique set of skills that Steve Jobs has."
As Enderle sees it, Jobs connects his position at Apple to his own mortality, which means even the hint of somebody replacing him is a threat. After two close calls with mortality -- Jobs also beat pancreatic cancer about five years ago -- Enderle said he is probably hanging on tight to the CEO position at Apple.
"It's a nasty problem. On one hand, the Apple board knows they need to replace Steve. On the other hand, just going through the motions would cause problems, including the possibility of him actually dying because of the stress they put on him," Enderle said. "So I don't envy the board at all. They are quite literally stuck."