Health Concerns Rise Again As Steve Jobs Skips Apple Shareholder Meeting - InformationWeek

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2/23/2009
04:48 PM
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
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Health Concerns Rise Again As Steve Jobs Skips Apple Shareholder Meeting

Steve Jobs won't be at this week's Apple annual meeting, the first he's missed since he returned to the company more than 10 years ago, according to reports. Jobs, who was successfully treated for pancreatic cancer in 2004, stepped aside from day-to-day responsibilities for six months starting in January, citing uncontrolled weight loss.

Steve Jobs won't be at this week's Apple annual meeting, the first he's missed since he returned to the company more than 10 years ago, according to reports. Jobs, who was successfully treated for pancreatic cancer in 2004, stepped aside from day-to-day responsibilities for six months starting in January, citing uncontrolled weight loss.

The Feb. 25 meeting -- a day after Jobs's 54th birthday -- will give shareholders the opportunity to question executives and Apple's directors, who have remained silent about the CEO's health since he went on medical leave last month. It is also earlier in the year than usual; for the past 10 years, Apple has held the meeting in March, April or May.

Corporate-governance experts have rebuked Apple's board for not addressing Jobs's health earlier and in more detail. After the CEO appeared thinner last year, rumors about his health sent the shares plunging. Jobs, a cancer survivor, said in a Jan. 5 statement that he was seeking a relatively simple treatment for his weight loss. Nine days later, he took a medical leave through June, saying his health problems were "more complex."

Among the items on the meeting agenda: voting on whether to re-elect the directors, including Jobs, to one-year terms.

"Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook is running the show in Jobs' absence and will likely serve as master of ceremonies for the meeting Wednesday morning at Apple's headquarters in Cupertino, Calif.," writes CNET's News.com. "In the past, a large part of the meeting -- once the official business is done -- has centered on Jobs fielding questions from shareholders on any number of topics, flanked by Cook and Phil Schiller, senior VP of worldwide marketing. Cook will likely handle those inquiries this year."

CNET adds: "It will be interesting to see if shareholders pose questions about Jobs' absence and the way Apple has handled the disclosures related to his health." Oh, I think we can count on that.

Not a lot to say here that isn't blindingly obvious: Jobs said that he's stepping away from day-to-day responsibilities -- but the shareholder meeting is a special event, one of several in the year when Jobs usually takes the spotlight, and it's surprising and disturbing that Jobs would skip it.

However, we can only speculate why he's missing it. Could be he's too sick to attend. Could be also that he's getting well, and wants to concentrate on that. I'm hoping for the latter. And Cook's turn in the spotlight will help to ease investor concerns about Apple's lack of a successor strategy -- something that every company should have, regardless of its size and how sick or well the CEO is.

I asked Apple whether they could confirm the reports, but haven't gotten a straight answer.

Update 8 pm ET: Apple says: "Steve is not expected to attend because he is on medical leave until the end of June."

Further fueling the rumor patrol, tech blogger and journalist Robert X Cringely reports that Jobs isn't using his computer:

A friend of mine has for years been one of Steve Jobs' Internet chat buddies. And as such his chat client has -- again for years -- shown as Steve came online each day and remained there for hours and hours as you'd expect a Silicon Valley mogul to do. And it's a trend that continued well past Jobs' announcement that he was taking a six-month leave of absence to get well. But then Steve started logging-on less and less. And several weeks ago he stopped logging-on at all.

The possibility that Jobs might not return from his sabbatical is a major threat for Apple. But it's far from the only one -- the company also faces challenges from the economic downturn, resurgent Windows, and smartphone competition. I wrote an overview of the threats -- and opportunities -- faced by Apple over the weekend: "Where Does Apple Go From Here?"

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