Apple: Business as usual

| Senior Forum Editor

On Jan. 17, Steve Jobs announced a medical leave of absence, just months after a taxing liver transplant in early January. Jobs’ reprieve reflects the multiple operations that the CEO has undergone over the past several years, beginning in 2004 when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Apple has become inextricably tied to its founder, and the future of the company seems uncertain in an industry where certainty is worth its weight in gold. Apple as a corporation is no stranger to uncertainty, however, and Jobs’ departure should come as a surprise to nobody.

That Steve Jobs has lasted several years while enduring a notably aggressive form of cancer is nothing short of a miracle—yet few seem to recognize this.

The market’s immediate reaction to Steve Jobs’ departure from Apple could only be described as vicious, and while recovery after the open swiftly followed, the brief lack of investor confidence was obvious. We can understand why in 2004 Jobs originally hesitated in announcing his diagnosis. Immediately after he did so, his apprehensions came true: Apple’s stock dipped significantly, if only for a short while. Fortunately, the stock rebounded, even as the climate of Apple’s execs has since been one of intense anxiety.

After all, Jobs is viewed as Apple’s hero: He is not only the strategic force behind Apple’s ingenious takeover of the music industry but also the creative muse that inspired the design of the iPhone. Should he pass away, there is no obvious successor, as Ballmer is to Gates, and although Jobs has more or less passed the torch to Timothy D. Cook, it seems unlikely that he could replace Jobs in any sense. It doesn’t even seem likely that anyone could replace him at all—Jobs has meticulously formed the company in his image, and such control leaves Apple with little momentum. To be sure, the next few years of Apple are more or less laid out, with Verizon’s adoption of the iPhone and a few more revisions to its current lineup. But long-term goals are unknown.

Oddly enough, this uncertainty is not reflected in Apple’s performance. Many investors have more or less resigned themselves to the ups and downs of Jobs’ health, and the stock performance, while dipping as all stocks do upon receiving bad news, has stabilized, and Apple continues to be a thriving force. Insofar as Apple has been shaped by Steve Jobs, it has also been shaped by uncertainty. It will be exciting to watch Apple in the next few years, but Apple has proven itself to be quite resilient in the face of enduring uncertainty.

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