- 25 Jul 08, 06:38 GMT
The rather inelegant question of who will lead Apple when Steve Jobs "goes" is being bandied about virtually everywhere at the moment. Speculation about his health has prompted the rumour mill to go into overdrive with Apple seemingly doing a poor job to dampen down the feverish speculation.
It all started last month when a gaunt Mr Jobs appeared at the company's developer conference in San Francisco. There was an almost audible gasp in the auditorium when he took to the stage in jeans that were practically hanging off his thin frame. But for a short while the issue faded as the crowd went nuts over his announcement about the new 3G iPhone.
Afterwards, spokespeople at Apple said Mr Jobs was recovering from a common bug. It was no secret that he had pancreatic cancer and four years ago underwent surgery which was hailed a success.
But the topic took centre stage again this week when analysts were involved in a conference call following the company's quarterly results. Chief financial officer Peter Oppenheimer said that Mr Jobs served as CEO "at the pleasure of Apple's board and has no plans to leave Apple".
Not sure if that line was borrowed from the West Wing script where the characters were constantly intoning how they "served at the pleasure of the president".
Arguably the matter might just have withered on the vine if Mr Oppenheimer had left the issue there, but he added that Mr Jobs' health was "a private matter".
That got people Twittering like mad and now the big question being asked is just how much investors and analysts should know about a top exec's health. Especially, they are suggesting, one like Steve Jobs who is such a visionary for Apple and whose success seems to be closely bound together.
You might well think that this is a lot of brouhaha for nothing, but in the world of commerce this is a big deal. Reuters news agency reports that one investor was considering adding to his $2bn fund but was hestitant because of all the talk about the Apple guru's health.
There are now reports that the "common bug" that led to the weight loss was due to a "surgical procedure" Steve Jobs had earlier in the year. And also being highlighted and bandied about by unnamed sources and unnamed friends is the story that "in recent weeks, Mr Jobs has reassured several people that he is doing well and that four years after a successful operation to treat a rare form of pancreatic cancer, he is cancer-free".
You might wonder how Apple ended up handling this bit of public relations so badly? They are, after all, regarded as masters of the art when it comes to hyping their products and controlling the "message". But it does seem they have been wrong-footed.
The debate all just underlines the $64,000 question of who really will eventually follow in Steve Jobs' footsteps? And can or should any one person be allowed to be bigger than the company he or she runs?
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