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Breaking News: Steve Jobs Taking Medical Leave of Absense

jobs logo portrait metueEven as he denies it himself, Apple’s Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook has often been billed as Steve Jobs eventual successor.  When Jobs was recuperating from pancreatic cancer in 2004, Cook ably took the helm.  Now, it seems, on another interim basis (albeit without a change of title) he’s being tasked to try on the role again.

Today, in a surprise announcement delivered by email to Apple staff (full text of the message along with Jobs 2004 treatment related email are reprinted below), Jobs said he is taking a medical leave of absence until the end of June.

While Jobs’ health is a personal matter, it has been the subject of recurring rumor and speculation since a June conference where he appeared noticeably gaunt and underweight.  Initially, the intensely private executive deferred most questions saying his health was a not a public concern.   That sparked many debates over the ethics and disclosure obligations that go with his obvious, and substantial, contribution to the company’s fortunes.

When the rumors began to have a direct impact on the company he founded, Jobs grudgingly stepped out of the silence and disclosed that nutritional issues which were caused as a result of the cancer/cancer treatment were responsible for his weight loss.  The ailment was not life threatening, he assured.

The rumors nevertheless remained, buoyed in part by distrust bred from the fact that his original cancer diagnosis was kept a secret for more than nine months and not publicly disclosed to shareholders until the day after he received treatment (the treatment email is reprinted below).

On January 5th,  the rumor mill picked up again after Jobs withdrew from Macworld and handed over the keynote podium to colleague, Phil Schiller

In a brief message, “saying more than [he] wanted to say” Jobs explained the choice and elaborated further on his health issues.   The nutritional issues, he explained were being caused by hormone imbalances and he was getting treatment. The remedy, he said, was “relatively simple and straightforward” but would likely take several months.

In today’s disclosure, Jobs confessed that his “health related issues are more complex than [Jobs] originally thought.”

Cook will take over the day to day operations until the end of June.  Jobs won’t be completely hands-off, however.  “As CEO,” he says, “I plan to remain involved in major strategic decisions while I am out.”

A little about Tim Cook
At 48, Cook is five years younger than Jobs.  He has been at Apple since 1998 and been the COO since 2005. In 2000, he took on responsibility for Apple’s sales and customer support organizations.   Since 2004, he’s overseen the Mac division. He’s also been responsible for wireless carrier partnerships and iPhone sales.

It’s reported, in the Apple org-chart, retail head Ron Johnson, iPod hardware head Mark Papermaster, and Apple’s Design, Legal, Finance and Marketing chiefs have not fallen under Cook’s wing, until now. While filling in for Jobs, Cook will take on oversight of these departments too.

Generally, Cook is not considered a visionary.  He’s not the person tasked with setting a long term strategic plan or product developments.  Cook is the guy tasked with making those visions unfold – efficiently and below costs.  He’s viewed as a supremely talented, exceptionally smart, “ops guy.”  Manufacturing, supply-chain, sales and support are his thing.

In background, Cook grew up in Alabama and has an undergraduate degree from Auburn along with an MBA from Duke.  Before Apple, he spent about 12 years at IBM, three years at Intelligent Electronics (bought by Ingram Micro) and six months at Compaq.

In personality, Cook is described as calm and even but brutally frank and demanding.  In a legendary story reported in a November Fortune Magazine profile, in 1998, thirty minutes after commenting that somebody should be in China to deal with manufacturing issues, he turned to Sabih Kahn, one of the executives in the meeting and asked “why are you still here.”  Kahn left for the airport and, to this day, remains one of Cook’s top lieutenants.

Besides his role at Apple, Cook sits on Nike’s board of directors.  Some say he’s married to his work.

The Following are the full texts of Jobs two recent messages, and also,  his original email from August, 2004.

January 14, 2009Leave of Absense
I am sure all of you saw my letter last week sharing something very personal with the Apple community. Unfortunately, the curiosity over my personal health continues to be a distraction not only for me and my family, but everyone else at Apple as well. In addition, during the past week I have learned that my health-related issues are more complex than I originally thought.

In order to take myself out of the limelight and focus on my health, and to allow everyone at Apple to focus on delivering extraordinary products, I have decided to take a medical leave of absence until the end of June.

I have asked Tim Cook to be responsible for Apple’s day to day operations, and I know he and the rest of the executive management team will do a great job. As CEO, I plan to remain involved in major strategic decisions while I am out. Our board of directors fully supports this plan.

I look forward to seeing all of you this summer.

January 5th, 2009 -Withdrawing from Keynote
Dear Apple Community,
For the first time in a decade, I’m getting to spend the holiday season with my family, rather than intensely preparing for a Macworld keynote.

Unfortunately, my decision to have Phil deliver the Macworld keynote set off another flurry of rumors about my health, with some even publishing stories of me on my deathbed.

I’ve decided to share something very personal with the Apple community so that we can all relax and enjoy the show tomorrow.

As many of you know, I have been losing weight throughout 2008. The reason has been a mystery to me and my doctors. A few weeks ago, I decided that getting to the root cause of this and reversing it needed to become my #1 priority.

Fortunately, after further testing, my doctors think they have found the cause—a hormone imbalance that has been “robbing” me of the proteins my body needs to be healthy. Sophisticated blood tests have confirmed this diagnosis.

The remedy for this nutritional problem is relatively simple and straightforward, and I’ve already begun treatment. But, just like I didn’t lose this much weight and body mass in a week or a month, my doctors expect it will take me until late this Spring to regain it. I will continue as Apple’s CEO during my recovery.

I have given more than my all to Apple for the past 11 years now. I will be the first one to step up and tell our Board of Directors if I can no longer continue to fulfill my duties as Apple’s CEO. I hope the Apple community will support me in my recovery and know that I will always put what is best for Apple first.

So now I’ve said more than I wanted to say, and all that I am going to say, about this.

August 1, 2004Announcing Cancer Treatment
I have some personal news that I need to share with you, and I wanted you to hear it directly from me.

This weekend I underwent a successful surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from my pancreas. I had a very rare form of pancreatic cancer called an islet cell neuroendocrine tumor, which represents about 1% of the total cases of pancreatic cancer diagnosed each year, and can be cured by surgical removal if diagnosed in time (mine was). I will not require any chemotherapy or radiation treatments.

The far more common form of pancreatic cancer is called adenocarcinoma, which is currently not curable and usually carries a life expectancy of around one year after diagnosis. I mention this because when one hears "pancreatic cancer" (or Googles it), one immediately encounters this far more common and deadly form, which, thank god, is not what I had.

I will be recuperating during the month of August, and expect to return to work in September. While I’m out, I’ve asked Tim Cook to be responsible for Apple’s day to day operations, so we shouldn’t miss a beat. I’m sure I’ll be calling some of you way too much in August, and I look forward to seeing you in September.
PS: I’m sending this from my hospital bed using my 17-inch PowerBook and an Airport Express.

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