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Monday January 17, 2011 4:38 pm

With Steve Jobs out, what happens now?

steve jobs medical leave

As we reported earlier today, Steve Jobs has taken another medical leave of absence from Apple.

So what happens now? That's the exact question that the world seeks answers for in the wake of this morning's announcement. What we do know is certain: Tim Cook, chief operating officer, will be at the helm for the companies major product launches going forward.

What we don't know is, well, everything else. But Jobs' unexpected health announcement does shed new light on recent Apple dealings as of late and, more importantly, comes with a few givens for the future.

Pundits are now speculating that Jobs' health could be the definitive reason why Tim Cook, and not Jobs himself, was the Apple representative on-hand to announce the company's much-anticipated partnership with Verizon. Reporting at the time indicated that Jobs intended to take the stage.

According to the New York Times, Jobs has been reducing his role at Apple over the past few weeks. He's spent less time at the office, eaten lunch in his office, and, "has appeared increasingly emaciated," said the Times' anonymous source. According to the person, this is indicative of the immune system issues Jobs faces as a result of his liver transplant in April 2009—"ups and downs" that are non-life-threatening, but ones that will forever affect the CEO.

A source quoted in the Wall Street Journal, however, takes a more grim analysis of Jobs' health issues:

"It's really difficult to cure the disease with a liver transplant," said William Chapman, transplantation chief at Washington University in St. Louis, speaking of Jobs' battle against an islet cell neuroendocrine tumor. "Most people hope they reset the clock, gained some time and gained a quality of life even if you don't cure the disease."

Jobs' departure puts Apple's succession plan back on the table—or at least, more into the public eye come Apple's annual shareholders meeting on February 23. In a proxy statement dated January 7, the company indicated that the Central Laborers' Pension Fund of Jacksonville, Illinois has brought a proposal to vote that would specifically put details of Apple's CEO succession policy into the company's Corporate Governance Guidelines.

"Our proposal is intended to have the board adopt a written policy containing several specific best practices in order to ensure a smooth transition in the event of the CEO's departure," reads the statement.

If adopted, the new CEO succession language will call for the following five actions to take place:

  • The Board of Directors will review the plan annually;

  • The Board will develop criteria for the CEO position which will reflect the Company's business strategy and will use a formal assessment process to evaluate candidates;

  • The Board will identify and develop internal candidates;

  • The Board will begin non-emergency CEO succession planning at least 3 years before an expected transition and will maintain an emergency succession plan that is reviewed annually;

  • The Board will annually produce a report on its succession plan to shareholders.

Of course, before one can even talk of CEO succession, one has to consider the reigning CEO. In this case, Jobs has announced his intention to continue his role at the top of Apple's helm, leaving Cook in charge of the company's day-to-day operations. He's done this before, most recently in early 2009 when a similar letter was drafted to announce Jobs' first medical leave of absence from Apple.

However, in analyzing the text of both letters, some differences emerge that indicate Jobs might not be bouncing back to action as quickly as before.

"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," wrote Jobs in January of 2009. The CEO was back in action as predicted in June of 2009.

However, Jobs' letter is a bit more open-ended this time around. There's no assumption or set date as to when Jobs feels he could return, and his descriptions of Apple's work without him hint at the fact that the CEO might not even be back this year.

"I have asked Tim Cook to be responsible for all of Apple's day to day operations. I have great confidence that Tim and the rest of the executive management team will do a terrific job executing the exciting plans we have in place for 2011," wrote Jobs this morning.

Said plans will be the guiding light for what is likely to be a hit to Apple's stock price going forward: The U.S. stock markets are closed today for Martin Luther King Jr. day, but expect a downswing of Apple's share values as a result of Jobs' departure. European shares in the company have already fallen 6.2 percent on the Frankfurt stock exchange. During Jobs' previous leave of absence, Apple's share price dipped a total of 23.3 percent.

And you can definitely expect that every word out of the Apple camp, Apple employees, or Jobs himself is going to be meticulously analyzed for even a glimmer of news that Jobs is returning, is not returning, or any combination thereof. Stockholders and corporate watchers have been pushing for more official disclosure from Apple since the last round of medical issues hit—if for nothing else than to allow investors to judge for themselves the best courses of action for their Apple holdings.

But journalist Kara Swisher over at All Things Digital takes the opposite approach: She says that it's time for pundits to give Jobs the freedom he seeks, at least for a little while:

"Today, he said in the email: 'I love Apple so much and hope to be back as soon as I can. In the meantime, my family and I would deeply appreciate respect for our privacy,'" she writes.

"I, for one, think he deserves exactly that and much more."

This article, written by David Murphy, originally appeared on PCMag.com and is republished on Gear Live with the permission of Ziff Davis.

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