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Will Steve Jobs Leave the Helm in 2009?

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One of the biggest questions in consumer tech as we head into 2009 is whether Steve Jobs will be healthy enough to lead Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) . Rumors of his waning health have been routine blog fodder based on the CEO's appearance at recent events. The chatter heated up two weeks ago, when Apple announced that Jobs wouldn't appear at next month's Macworld. Oh, and that next month's conference would be the company's final Macworld.

A brief glimmer of optimism emerged yesterday when iconic Web 2.0 watcher Robert Scoble chimed in.

"I'm in Palo Alto," he posted in FriendFeed. "Just had yogurt at shop that Steve Jobs eats at frequently. They said he was in a couple of days ago and is in great health."

In a copycat Web, others jumped on the seemingly flimsy thesis with upbeat headlines:

  • "Local yogurt store tells blogger that Steve Jobs is in great health," writes VentureBeat.
  • "Apple's Jobs is (Still) Fine," reads a CNBC headline.
  • "Goldman: Jobs Health Rumors are Wrong," The Mac Observer writes.

Then came Gizmodo's Jesus Diaz, raining on the parade.

"Steve Jobs' Health Declining Rapidly, Reason for Macworld Cancellation," reads his grim headline. Relying on an unnamed source who has supposedly always been accurate, Gizmodo claims that the annual Macworld event was called off to "remove the hype factor" from the event in case Jobs isn't around for what would have been Macworld in January 2010.

Few companies are as CEO-dependent as Apple. It's hard to imagine Apple without its leader -- dressed in a black mock turtleneck and jeans -- introducing new products.

The success that Jobs has had since his return to Apple has even inspired other companies to bring back founding CEOs to turn their companies around. Unfortunately for companies like Dell (Nasdaq: DELL  ) and Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX  ) , the return of the prodigal CEO has been more myth than reality. The legend completely fell apart at Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO  ) this year.

Either way, Apple has to make sure that investors know that its success is about more than just one executive. Everyone wants Jobs to be fine, but no CEO is forever. Since Apple has shied away from addressing the health concerns, it better hope that new stylistic visionaries emerge out of next month's Macworld.

It doesn't seem to have a choice, no matter what the yogurt shop owner may say.

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Starbucks and Dell are Motley Fool Inside Value selections. Starbucks and Apple are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. The Fool owns shares of Starbucks. Get in the game and try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has been adding more and more Apple products into his life in recent years. He does not own shares in any of the stocks in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.

Read/Post Comments (5) | Recommend This Article (6)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On December 31, 2008, at 12:05 PM, chavavk wrote:

    Apple stake holders want minimum guarantee and hence so much cash with Apple. And Apple do not venture into any financial risk and hence One can never get returns from the investment into AAPL stocks.

    Apple is basically a product dependent company and live in the world of secrecy and taking advantage of this, some insiders are influencing market indirectly and hence normal investors will always loose unless you have someone in Apple. Precisely this is the reason why stock fluctuate so much even if Apple is doing well. Buy apple products if you can afford and stay away from stock and teach lesson to apple management.If Job leaves, apple direction will be quite unpredictable as no competent successor to Jobs is do not make guesses.....insideout from apple

  • Report this Comment On December 31, 2008, at 12:44 PM, misterbrowne wrote:

    IIRC, Scobie's tweet and CNBC's headline came in response to Gizmodo's article.

  • Report this Comment On December 31, 2008, at 2:33 PM, docmurdock wrote:

    Apple shareholders want what's best for the company. Everyone is focused on Steve and that's not where he wants people focused. Focus on the company, the products, the future. He knows he's not going to be around forever, others seem to have lost sight of this and think that if Steve passes on that Apple will fold up like a cheap suitcase.

    Look at the fundamentals, look at the products, look a the renewed user interest and look toward a future that can still be great as long as Apple does what's needed for the company to continue.

    Steve's not gone yet. It'll be sad for the world when he does, but eventually it will happen. It's going to happen to all of us, but you don't see Microsoft saying OMG BILL GATES IS DYING THE COMPANY IS DOOMED. Or Berkshire-Hathaway saying OMG WARREN BUFFETT IS DYING WE'RE DOOMED!

    They're putting in place plans of succession. Apple has this as well. We're just not privvy to it. And if they don't and they need a pinch-hitter in the meantime. I am happy to help out, all they have to do is call and I will get there to do what is needed to help people remain focused on the company, on the products, and on the future, because that is what Steve would want.

    Michael Murdock, CEO

  • Report this Comment On December 31, 2008, at 10:31 PM, poppix920 wrote:

    Surely people in the know do not believe anyone could be in good health with a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. This is a bad disease with typical survival rates of not much over a year. Anybody can check that by a search. He could be an exceptional case, but it sounds dubious to me.

  • Report this Comment On December 31, 2008, at 10:45 PM, wuff3t wrote:

    Excellent! Someone who knows!

    Thank you poppix920 - enlighten us.

    Otherwise just add your name to the growing list of non-entities gossiping about the neighbours's health.

    Seriously, if you KNOW something please add it, otherwise why bother....

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