A day after news broke that Apple CEO Steve Jobs is taking another medical leave of absence, the viewpoints are still rolling in. Most of them are grim. Some of them are low blows. And others are yet hopeful that the American icon will once again return to the helm of the company that bears his distinguished mark.
Some analysts suggest Apple is much more than Jobs. Others insist Apple is almost all Jobs all the time. Shareholders seem to agree with the second theory, considering that Apple's stock dipped nearly five percent today.
The 55-year-old cancer survivor sent an e-mail to all Apple employees to announce the unwelcome news, but he offered no specific details about his health. Jobs' latest medical leave comes after a liver transplant nearly a year ago, opening the door to speculation that Jobs is once again having trouble with his liver.
A Post-Steve Apple
"Steve Jobs is wedded to that job and he wouldn't leave it if it wasn't serious," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group. "His letter to his employees was worded in such a way that made it sound like even he doubts whether he'll be back. Clearly, if it's at all possible, he will. But the wording suggested that he wasn't too optimistic. It's likely that we are now at the cusp of a post-Steve Jobs Apple."
Having said that, Enderle noted that most of the products to be delivered in 2011 will have Jobs' stamp. The products that show up mid-next year may not have the Jobs mark if he doesn't return to Apple soon. And Enderle said it seems unlikely that any Apple announcements this year will be without Jobs unless a miracle occurs. He already missed the Verizon iPhone announcement, which many expected him to attend.
"Steve made himself an integral part of the company, much like it would be if you had a machine and you moved a significant portion of it without redesigning the machine. The machine is not going to function well without him. He was involved in everything from the creation of the product all the way through to its presentation," Enderle said.
"And he was a micromanager. So when he steps out, you are going to have a lot of people who suddenly want to do things that he wouldn't allow. That clearly can get out of hand," Enderle added. "Apple is going to need somebody to step in and be that autocrat, if you will. I am not convinced [COO Tim] Cook can do that. He's certainly a good numbers guy."
Not Like Bill Gates
How would a Jobs departure compare to a Bill Gates departure from Microsoft? Losing the CEO is a much bigger problem for Apple, Enderle said. That's because, as he sees it, Gates wasn't a micromanager and he wasn't integral to much of the process, yet he was the visionary.
"Post-Bill, Microsoft has hadn't had a lot of vision. Post-Steve, you not only lose whatever visionary qualities you have, but you also lose that unique execution that kept everyone in conflict," Enderle said. "Also, given the fact that his management style is one that is largely based on fear, you just remove that major fear factor. He was the guy who folks believed went around and fired people. And of course that's not going to happen with him gone unless you have someone who wants to be the top ass. Very few people actually aspire to that."