file, AP Photo/Paul Sakuma
Shares of Apple Inc. fell modestly Tuesday following the company's disclosure that Steve Jobs, the CEO who transformed the niche computer maker into the most-envied consumer-electronics brand today, is taking another medical leave of absence.
Analysts believe the company Jobs shepherded from garage startup to a $65 billion technology trendsetter is in good hands with the current slate of talented executives — even as Apple, now the Silicon Valley player to beat, faces increasing competition from Google Inc. and others.
Investors appeared to agree. Although shares fell nearly 7 percent in Frankfurt Monday, when markets in the U.S. were closed, Apple lost only $7.17, or 2 percent, to $341.31 in midday trading Tuesday. Earlier Tuesday, stock traded as low as $326.
In the last decade, Jobs, 55, has survived a rare but curable form of pancreatic cancer and undergone a liver transplant. The news that he will again step back from his day-to-day role raises serious questions about the CEO's health.
Investors have pinned much of their faith in the company on Jobs himself, sending shares tumbling on every bit of news or rumor of his ailing health. That's because Jobs is an industry oracle of sorts, inventing new products he knows consumers will want even before they realize it. He is also known as a demanding and hands-on leader who is involved in even the smallest details of product development.
In a note to employees, Jobs said he will continue as CEO and will be involved in major decisions. Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook will be responsible for all day-to-day operations.
For now, very little is known about Jobs' current condition. Apple did not provide any information beyond the six-sentence note announcing his leave, leaving unanswered questions about whether the CEO is acutely ill, whether the leave is related to his 2009 liver transplant or whether he is at home or in a hospital.
Unlike Jobs' 2009 leave of absence, when he vowed to return to work in less than six months, Jobs did not say in the note made public Monday how long he would be on leave this time.
"I love Apple so much and hope to be back as soon as I can," Jobs wrote. "In the meantime, my family and I would deeply appreciate respect for our privacy."
Many analysts believe the company can function successfully even without Jobs in the corner office full-time — and with Apple at the forefront of a new revolution in personal computing.
In 2010, investors seemingly grew accustomed to Jobs' extreme thinness, focusing instead on the early success of the iPad with consumers. Shares increased 53 percent last year to top $300. With Apple no doubt polishing the second version of the iPad and competition among tablet makers expected to heat up this year and next, some stockholders may fear that without Jobs, Apple could lose its lead to tablets running Google's Android software or Microsoft Corp.'s Windows.
Analysts believe Apple has plans for several years' worth of products in the pipeline. And Cook, who is seen as a logical eventual successor to Jobs, is no stranger to investors. He ran the Cupertino, Calif.-based company for two months in 2004 while Jobs battled pancreatic cancer, and again in 2009 during Jobs' most recent medical leave. Apple chugged along smoothly then, releasing a new version of the iPhone and updated laptops on schedule.
Since Cook, 50, began with Apple in 1998, he has been credited with tuning Apple's manufacturing process to solve chronic product delays and supply problems.
"Steve is clearly still the visionary behind Apple," said Tim Bajarin of Creative Strategies, who has been covering Apple for decades.
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