Apple CEO’s leave a predictable, preventable crisis

Anything that would cause stock to lose from 3.5% to 7% of value would probably be considered a crisis in most business circles. When Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs announced a medical leave of absence the overseas markets responded with an initial 7% dip in Apple share value. (Was it intentional to announce the leave on a holiday weekend?) When the markets opened today, the stock initially dropped nearly 7% but as of this writing has regained about half.

I’ve long found it ironic that Apple, which is so beloved by the truly geeky crowd, has been so secretive when transparency and openness is one of the highest values of the social media-geeky crowd. The two didn’t fit. I’ve just assumed that as long a Apple keeps creating “insanely great” products and keeps defining what is cool today, there will be lots of forgiveness.

The famed secrecy around product launches and strategies is clearly part of the personality of Steve Jobs. And that now causes Apple, the company, the shareholders, the employees and also its customers, some serious issues. Jobs is unusually linked to the company as its heart and soul. Indeed, one of the greatest stories in recent business history is how Jobs lost a board fight and was replaced by John Scully as the company emerged from its entrepreneurial beginnings into a large concern needing professional management. But Scully bombed and Jobs returned. His return demonstrated to the world that a company like Apple needs and depends on a visionary leader who, although a pain in behind to work for and with according to personal conversations with people who worked directly with him in those early days, will continue innovate and insist on creating truly breakthrough products.

But this story, combined with Job’s health, plus the famed secrecy is what creates the crisis now. What is Apple’s future? I’m guessing the reason the stock didn’t tank further is there is hope that this is very temporary and Jobs will be back soon. Apple has not made it clear that they may have other visionary talent to carry on the Job’s tradition. Tim Cook, the COO and now acting CEO, is not well known I don’t believe and I’ve never heard any commentators say anything other than he is a good executive. Scully was an outstanding executive. That’s not what Apple shareholders and loyal fans (including me) are hoping for.

There is a veil of silence around this leave of absence. There is great patience because of the loyalty, but that patience will wear thin. Apple in a crisis, a completely predictable and preventable one. How they manage the emerging story of Job’s health problems and future will say much about the future of one of the most successful companies in recent memory.

Update: I just read this post from Business Insider which is parsing Job’s email to employees to deduce that they do not think he will be coming back. This shows again how a paucity of information will lead to all kinds of speculation, parsing, and tea leaf reading. But the message also reminded me, we are talking about a real person here. Steve Jobs is more than a meal ticket for employees and a golden egg laying goose to the millions of happy shareholders. He’s a human being who may be in yet another battle for his life. Which leads one to the question–will he regret not spending another day at the office? No doubt he sacrificed much for the success of his company and his own legacy. Let’s hope he has peace and contentment in the personal choices he has made and in the relationships he has invested in that are the real measure of a human life.

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