How Much Does Steve Jobs Really Do for Apple These Days?

June 23rd, 2009

So it does indeed appear that Steve Jobs has returned to his CEO position at Apple. Whether part-time or full-time may not be terribly clear, but perhaps it doesn’t make much of a difference these days. You see, the real question is how much effort Jobs has really put into the company over the past five years.

In 2004, for example, Jobs temporarily relinquished his CEO duties when he underwent surgery for treatment of a rare form of pancreatic cancer. The day-to-day affairs of Apple were managed by COO Tim Cook, who is regarded as perhaps the best operations person in the business.

When Jobs took his six month medical leave early this year to prepare for and receive a liver transplant, Cook took the reins of command again, and evidently acquitted himself surprisingly well. He was confident, and Apple’s steady stream of new product introductions appears to have continued unabated. Sure, it’s certain Jobs was still being consulted via email and telephone (or iChat) for the big decisions, but it’s not as if Apple suddenly ceased to function.

Indeed, after the company’s stock dipped for a spell, it managed to bounce back to a fairly decent degree, although it’s been down recently, perhaps in response to those liver transplant reports.

The key here is that, since taking over the company over a decade ago, Jobs has filled the executive ranks with people who are not only supremely talented, but clearly in lockstep with his vision for the company. What this means in the long haul is that he probably doesn’t have to micromanage each and every decision and outcome on a day-to-day basis, thus freeing his time for more visionary pursuits.

After suffering from a serious illness, surely Jobs feels his mortality, and perhaps he would want to spend more time with friends and family, which would also go towards reducing his actual role at Apple.

Some suggest that he is grooming Cook to become the CEO in truth and not just via his regular duties. Should that be the case, Jobs could restrict his involvement to the big decisions and the public appearances, and otherwise conserve his energy as much as possible.

Once again, it’s fair to say that I’m speculating here. I’m just looking at the play of events to reach these conclusions, as I do not pretend to have top secret sources to get me information. I don’t think it’s all that difficult to judge much of what Apple is doing by their public acts, although there penchant for secrecy remains largely unaltered.

In the scheme of things, of course, I suppose our hunger for news, even of an extremely personal nature, is one of the reasons why there’s so much curiosity about Jobs these days. No other corporate executive, except perhaps Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer, can routinely generate headlines in the mainstream media, even though Jobs is far less visible on the public stage.

For those who follow Apple and care about their products, the important thing is what the board of directors is doing about the situation. Without releasing details, they supposedly have a succession plan in place, and one hopes they have demonstrated appropriate corporate responsibility and kept close tabs on their CEO’s condition and survival prospects. If they haven’t, well stockholders would have a right to complain.

On the other hand, I think there would be far less concern if Apple would have been a little more forthcoming about the matter. Yes, an executive’s illness would usually be a private affair, but not an executive who has, whether he wants to or not, become the tech industry’s rock star. The ongoing silence simply inflames the situation, and it also encourages the rise of unfounded rumors. You can see, for example, how that fake rumor that Jobs suffered a heart attack a couple of years back caused the stock price to tumble really fast.

In my not-so-humble opinion, Apple would do far better to have provided periodic updates about Jobs rather than single sentence brush-offs. I also rather suspect that his name was attached to the press release about selling more than a million new iPhones in order to restore confidence in the company and reassure everyone that Jobs is back or would be shortly.

On the other hand, a press photo showing a healthy-looking Jobs appearing for his first day of work would do wonders to still the concerns and the unfounded rumors. The way the media works these days, saying nothing only delivers more attention.

Perhaps that’s Apple’s real plan. By being secretive, they simply attract more attention. They don’t have to ask the press to come to them. They’re attracted like flies seeking little tidbits of information and speculation. If that’s the plan, well, they’ve clearly succeeded, for better or worse.

And by the way, I have to wonder about a certain media pundit who wrote an article as to whether Steve Jobs is fit to run Apple. That is the question that should have been asked about the CEOs of certain auto and financial companies instead, since Apple is successful and some of those other companies aren’t.

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10 Responses to “How Much Does Steve Jobs Really Do for Apple These Days?”

  1. Yacko says:

    Look at Apple’s current state of affairs, doing boffo in the middle of a near depression compared to the rest of the computer and mobile industry. This may as well be as good a time as any to start making the transition. Jobs has been building Apple for 10 years. Is it reasonable to expect him to put in another 10 years, when he is in his mid-60’s? I say no, move Jobs into some sort of emeritus guru position, and Apple continues on. Having fathered four children, Jobs may have grandchildren and given his bouts with mortality over the last several years, might want to focus his life on other things. He will always be a cofounder of and sensei to Apple and his thoughts on matters will always be considered strongly, no matter how infrequently he dispenses them.

  2. John says:

    Steve doesn’t need to do a lot day-to-day but I think his presence in Apple is very important because he has the clout to set the tone and keep Apple on track. Think of what happened after Steve left Apple the first time. This is what happens to good companies when they get bad leadership. Apple still had talented people and great technology during the 90s but they didn’t have the vision. In other cases companies can be taken over by the accountants and lawyers. Not having product vision they focus on the stock price and the cash flow and the product suffers. Steve has made a number of bold decisions that would have happened in a company more focused on the bottom line. Who could have imagined Apple canceling the very popular iPod mini and coming out with the iPod nano? The iPod mini was a top seller. Accountants and lawyers would have wanted to milk that for more cash till sales started to fall. This is the kind of value that Steve brings to Apple. He sets the tone and the direction. For that he only needs to show up at the office from time to time.

  3. @ John: The problem the first time out is that Steve found himself isolated, and the company was run by a soft drink salesman who had no clue how to advance technology in the Apple tradition. Steve had lots of work to do to fix the company when he returned. But now he’s put in his own people, who supposedly share his vision. That’s an important difference. Besides, it may well be that Tim Cook has been doing most of the day-to-day work anyway in the last year or two.


  4. Switcher says:

    Liver transplant ?
    I thought this story was just speculation / rumor.
    Lots of stories about his condition are pure fantaisies.

    • The Methodist University Hospital in Tennessee confirmed, with the permission of Steve Jobs, that he indeed had the liver transplant recently and that his prognosis was “excellent.” Been all over the news. 🙂


  5. Jim says:

    Jobs is credited with some of Apple’s inventions over the years, but the value he brings to Apple day-in and day-out is simply this: he must be delighted by any product that Apple sales, or it goes back to the drawing board. The track record is obvious: almost everything Apple sells is a hit, and some (e.g., iPhone) are monstrous hits and game changers. Alas, I can’t say with any certainty that Tim Cook can duplicate or even approximate what Steve Jobs brings to the table.

  6. auramac says:

    I say leave him alone and let him and Apple be: if you want to buy or sell stock, do so.

    You’d think this were a “reality show”- why speculate when there are actual products, and facts, to make decisions about or contemplate. It appears that Apple is doing extremely well- whatever Jobs or Cook contributes, and I’m quite sure they know what they’re doing and have the right to evade this constant media scrutiny.

    Those who criticize Apple for secrecy they may very well find necessary might want to take a look in the mirror about now.

  7. Richard says:

    Even Warren Buffet says that the matter of a life saving operation on the CEO should have been disclosed.

    It is most certainly not “a private matter”.

    It makes you wonder whether the shareholders are smart enough to get arid of Steve’s lapdogs on the Board of Directors and put some people in place who have judgment and actually attempt to perform their jobs.

  8. @ Richard: Well, with Jobs’ approval, the hospital did provide a reasonable amount of basis detail. That ought to be enough for now. I think it should have been released earlier, however. But I doubt the SEC will complain. The regulations are far too loose on that score.


  9. Richard says:


    An after the fact admission is not what Buffet was talking about. The shareholders, indeed the market when talking about a publicly traded company, is entitled to such information because it does have a direct bearing upon the stock.

    Mr. Jobs has been up to his eyeballs in questionable (giving it a favorable spin) dealings for some years now. Other CEOs have been fired for much less than what Mr. Jobs has done.

    The Board of Directors are a bunch of toothless lapdogs.

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