MacWorld Without Steve Jobs

There is no CEO more identified with his company than Steve Jobs, the iCEO of Apple. Since his return to Apple in the mid nineties, he has doubled Apple's penetration of the entire PC market and dominated the high-end market. His creative vision is responsible for the creation of three iconic products: the Mac, iPod, and iPhone.

So it was not surprising that the recent announcement that Steve Jobs would not be speaking at MacWorld 2009 and that Apple itself would not participate in further MacWorlds sent Apple stock reeling. Mac aficionados feared that Steve Jobs pulled out because he is sick again. The abrupt timing of Steve's withdrawal so close to the event itself raised suspicions even more. He did suffer from pancreatic cancer in 2004 and looked gaunt in his last public appearance in June.

The stated reason for the cancellation was that Apple no longer needs Macworld because its website and the Apple stores allow it to reach more of its consumers directly. This did not quiet the Macolytes. They monitor his health more closely than the paparazzi watch Angelina's belly. I do not think that the health of the 72-year-old John McCain while running for the highest office in the land received as much scrutiny.

As with all things celebrity, the media handling of Jobs' health has gone from the ridiculous to the sublime. Blogs are buzzing about an okay health report from a worker at Job's regular frozen yogurt shop. New York Times reporter Joe Nocera forced Steve Jobs himself to admit that his virus in June was more serious than his PR staff originally said and then devoted an entire column to the effort. Well respected blogs and CNBC are quoting anonymous sources about the state of his health.

Of course, Steve Jobs could end the speculation by speaking forthrightly about his health, but that is not Job's way. He delayed announcing that he was suffering from life threatening pancreatic cancer even though securities law requires a public company to report material adverse events on a timely basis. He has consistently obfuscated about his health because he believes that his health is nobody's business but his own.


I understand the natural desire for privacy, but Jobs is wrong in this case. Some analysts estimate that his value to the company could be more than 20% of market capitalization, which could be as high as $20 billion based on recent market capitalization. A false report of a heart attack sent Apple stock down 10% in a matter of minutes, while his surprise appearance on a conference call caused the stock to go up 10%.

I tend to believe that Apple understands securities law and would disclose material information about Jobs' health. Regardless of the state of his health, there does seem to be some logic behind Apple's and Job's decision to pull out of Macworld. By having Phil Schiller, vice president of marketing for Apple, do the opening speech of Macworld this year, Apple is showing the depth of its management team and giving him world wide exposure. In a sense, they are starting to plan the succession that so many analysts have urged them to do for years. 

As for Apple's leaving MacWorld entirely, the company may no longer want to be tied to the schedule of MacWorld. The iPhone was not quite ready for its unveiling at Macworld 2007, but Apple had no choice but to introduce it then or disappoint the whole world.

Apple may want to leave MacWorld at the top of their game before they have jumped the shark. Like everybody else, they have seen the recent dire economic statistics and know that it will probably affect their company's future bottom line. They have developed two iconic products in the last seven years; the company may not have anything yet in the pipeline that will come close to matching their appeal. (I can imagine the Macolytes gnashing their teeth at that comment.)

Apple's leaving Macworld may also have some symmetry with their decision to drop the word "computer" from their corporate name several years ago. The appeal for their products has branched out from just the technology aficionados. It has been reported that the Queen of England has an iPod.

I hope that Jobs has learned a lesson from this recent spate of rumors. It is time for him to appoint a number 2. This hysteria is fueled in part by his refusal to do so. His reluctance to discuss succession is somewhat understandable after his disastrous appointment of former Pepsi CEO John Sculley as Apple CEO, which led to the banishment of Jobs from his own company. Steve has a responsibility to Apple shareholders to get over that incident and plan for a Jobs-less Apple

The lack of a succession plan seems especially silly when there is an excellent candidate waiting in the wings. Jonathan Ive has received world wide renown, even a CBE from the Queen of England, for being the principal designer of the iMac, Powerbook, iPod, and iPhone. Some say that his leaving Apple would be a greater loss than if Jobs left.