Ever since the news surfaced that Steve Jobs would be sitting out this year's Macworld keynote, the speculation machine over the Apple CEO's health has been working in overdrive.
The latest reports cite insider sources as saying that Jobs' health issues are so grave that he could be out as early as this spring.
The general consensus seems to be that if Steve Jobs really is this ill, he has already begun the process of removing himself from the company with the decision to send Phill Schiller to the MacWorld keynote.
Hopefully, the reports are wrong, and the decision is merely a strategic one and Jobs' health is just fine. However, we also have to take a look at what things could be like should Jobs retire in the near future.
For the man personally, it would almost certainly be a good thing. When people have their retirement plans invested in a company's stock, there is some room for debate as to whether the health of an executive as powerful as Jobs should be made public. When he leaves the company, there is no debate. Steve Jobs health will be nobody's business and he can seek out treatment however he wants without any effects on the company.
If the price fluctuations from recent rumors are any indication, Apple stock may not fare as well. People seem to be convinced that Jobs alone can run the company and that in his absence, Apple will revert back to its bumbling mid-90s days of woe.
It's possible. After all, there's not a single company in the industry that is said to be run with as much control as Jobs wields with Apple. Without that force at the top, there could be plenty of confusion and infighting as the exec team struggles to find a successor.
That doesn't, however, mean that Apple is poised to return to the days of the Newton and Performa. The company pre-Jobs was a mess of execs who lacked a single vision or plan for the company. These days, Jobs has surrounded himself with such people as Tim Cook and Jonathan Ive who appear to be more than capable of developing and putting out great products even without the guiding hand of Jobs.
Where the company may be 5 to 10 years after he leaves is anyone's guess, but it's safe to assume that once the initial shock of his departure and the power vacuum it leaves have worn off, Jobs will have created a blueprint that should keep Apple on course for some time after he hangs up his spurs.
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