By Kevin Kelleher,
NEW YORK (
) -- The last time Steve Jobs took a medical leave of absence from his job as CEO of
, the debate stretched on for months: Can Apple survive for a stretch without him? Will the company's new products still become hits? Can its other managers fill in for a leader who is both visionary and detail-obsessed?
The answer to all those questions, we know now, is yes. Which may be why, now that Jobs is taking a third medical leave of absence, the debate has been much shorter. It took pretty much one day for the consensus to swing toward a sense that Apple would do just fine over the coming year. As if to dispel lingering doubts, Apple posted a blowout financial quarter Tuesday and followed up with bullish guidance.
Missing in Action: Charisma and Panache
Word of Jobs' leave hit on Martin Luther King Day, a market holiday, giving the news cycle plenty of time to digest it. In overseas markets where Apple trades, the stock fell as much as 8% from its Friday closing price of $348.48. But following its earnings announcement Tuesday, the stock surged as high as $353.29.
On the earnings call with analysts, the inevitable questions about what Apple would do during Jobs' leave were muted. Instead, analysts focused questions on Apple's future and where its technology and its markets are heading. Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook, who is again taking over day-to-day operations in the CEO's absence, fielded the questions well, even if he lacked much of the charisma and panache that Jobs always brings to public events.
Still, if Apple can thrive for at least the next year or so without Jobs as actively involved, another question remains: How long will Apple thrive once he retires? There's a somewhat ghoulish aspect to the public discussion of any person's prospects when facing cancer -- it's a private matter that deserves to remain private. But every CEO's tenure ends at some point, and every company must adapt to that departure, especially when the CEO's stamp is as indelible as Jobs' is on Apple.