Steve Jobs announced last night that he is stepping down as CEO of Apple, the company he founded in his garage with Steve Wozniak in 1976. This, of course, isn’t the first time Jobs has left Apple. Apart from medical leaves of absence in the last seven years, Jobs was fired from the company in 1985 amid slumping sales after the company introduced the Macintosh. Jobs would return as a consultant in 1996 after founding NeXT Computing and planting the seeds that would lead to the formation of Pixar. Jobs took the CEO’s chair the following year.
Before Jobs’ return, Apple was largely a punchline for the general public. Witness this exchange from the classic 1996 The Simpsons episode “Homerpalooza”:
Homer: “There can only be one truly great festival a lifetime, and it’s the Us Festival.”
Record store clerk: “The What Festival?!”
Homer: “The Us Festival! Jeez, it was sponsored by the guy from Apple Computers.”
Record store clerk: “What Computers?!”
But under Jobs’ stewardship, Apple has rebounded strongly. One in eight notebook computers sold is a MacBook. The iPod became the only MP3 player that succeeded. The iPhone is the #1 selling smartphone in the world. People want iPads, not tablets. As a result, a $5 share of Apple stock bought when Jobs returned fifteen years ago would be worth nearly $1400 today, even after this morning’s selloff.
Needless to say, Jobs’ own words raise concerns about his health:
“I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come.”
It’s no secret that Steve Jobs has not been well. He announced in 2004 that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and has undergone extensive treatment since, including a liver transplant in 2010. He probably fields as many questions about his health as he does about his products. Given his medical leaves of absence and increasingly frail and gaunt appearance, it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to think that Jobs is in far worse shape than he’s letting on. While he remains as the chairman of Apple’s board of directors and will no doubt have continued input on new products, it also seems clear that Jobs is not just preparing for the inevitable but that he has been for some time. Tim Cook, Apple’s COO and Jobs’ handpicked successor, has been interim CEO during Jobs’ time away from the company, and despite the perception that Jobs is Apple, the company has continued to succeed under Cook.
While Apple suffered the last time Jobs left, the company is in a far better position to survive long after Jobs has shuffled off this mortal coil.
This article was written on a MacBook Pro. Berate my choice of computer on Twitter @UnwinnableDonB.