Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs announced today that he is taking a "leave of absence" from his job because of health problems, an announcement almost certain to raise new questions about his overall health.
In an e-mail today sent to all Apple employees, Jobs said that "during the past week, I have learned that my health-related issues are more complex than I originally thought." The announcement was made after the close of financial markets in the U.S. (Analysts later said Apple's operations aren't likely to be affected if Jobs returns in June as planned.)
"I am sure all of you saw my letter last week sharing something very personal with the Apple community," Jobs continued in his message. "Unfortunately, the curiosity over my personal health continues to be a distraction not only for me and my family, but everyone else at Apple as well. ... In order to take myself out of the limelight and focus on my health, and to allow everyone at Apple to focus on delivering extraordinary products, I have decided to take a medical leave of absence until the end of June."
Jobs, 53, said Apple Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook will be in charge of day-to-day operations. "I know he and the rest of the executive management team will do a great job," Jobs said. "As CEO, I plan to remain involved in major strategic decisions while I am out. Our board of directors fully supports this plan. I look forward to seeing all of you this summer."
Today's announcement comes a month after Apple announced that Jobs would not deliver his signature keynote address the Macworld Expo & Conference. Phil Schiller, Apple's senior vice president for marketing, took his place at the event last week to unveil updated applications and a new 17-in MacBook Pro.
Jobs' health has been a matter of concern for some Wall Street analysts and a topic of discussion among Apple users and investors for months. The speculation began last June, when Jobs appeared gaunt at the company's Worldwide Developers Conference, and it was fueled by talk that he might again be seriously ill. In 2004, Jobs announced that he had had surgery to remove a cancerous tumor in his pancreas.
Last July, Jobs told The New York Times that he was cancer-free, and he joked about the concerns during the MacBook rollout. Between the two, however, a false report that Jobs had suffered a massive heart attack shoved Apple's stock down by 11% in early October, demonstrating Wall Street's worries about Jobs and how his absence might impact the company.
According to the Wall Street Journal, trading of the company's shares was briefly halted in after-hours trading.
Last week, just before the Macworld Expo got under way, Jobs released a statement in which he said a hormonal imbalance had caused the weight loss that had fueled speculation he was seriously ill. He is currently undergoing treatment.
In a rare open letter to the Apple community, Jobs acknowledged his weight loss, but said his doctors believed, and tests had confirmed, that a "hormone imbalance has been 'robbing' me of the proteins my body needs to be healthy."
Apple has come under criticism from several quarters since Jobs' health again became a matter of concern to investors in June, with most talk centered around the possibility that he again had cancer. After Jobs' appearance, Apple officials pegged his weight loss to a "common bug" he had contracted.
Some analysts found that explanation hard to believe and made repeated calls on Apple to come clean about the health of its CEO. Those concerns prompted Jobs to speak with the New York Times.
Computerworld's Seth Weintraub weighs in on Jobs' announcement.