Tim Cook to take Apple CEO spot this year, says analyst

Steve Jobs' medical leave will promote current COO, put Jobs in advisory, chairman roles

Apple COO Tim Cook
Apple COO Tim Cook at Verizon's iPhone 4 launch event in New York. (Image: Brendan McDermid / Reuters)

Tim Cook, Apple's current chief operating officer, will be named the company's CEO sometime this year, an analyst predicted today.

On Monday, Cook was again designated as Steve Jobs' stand-in when Jobs announced that he was taking an immediate leave of absence "so I can focus on my health."

Unlike when he set a six-month timetable for returning after a 2009 leave, yesterday Jobs did not mention an end date for his absence, saying only that "[I] hope to be back as soon as I can."

Brian Marshall, an analyst with Gleacher & Co., read that as meaning Jobs would probably not return as CEO.

"Jobs picks his words carefully," said Marshall. "That's why I think this time could be different."

Cook ran Apple during Jobs' earlier medical leaves in 2004 for cancer surgery and in 2009 for a liver transplant. "Because of this recurring [medical] issue, I think Jobs will step down as CEO," said Marshall. According to Marshall, Jobs' should instead serve as the company's strategic advisor and perhaps as its chairman.

Currently, Apple's board does not have a chairman, and instead relies on two co-lead directors: Andrea Jung, the CEO and chairman of Avon Products, and Arthur Levinson, the chairman of Genentech.

Marshall expects Cook to be elevated to CEO sometime during 2011.

"He's proven that he can do the job," said Marshall, noting Cook's performance during the times when he took the reins, and the $5 million bonus the Apple board awarded him last year for that work in 2009. "Cook is the right guy for the job."

Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, didn't agree with Marshall on Jobs' immediate future at Apple.

"I think he'll be back," said Gottheil. "But this points out that eventually he'll say, 'I don't want to do this anymore.'"

In his message Monday to Apple employees, Jobs said he would "continue as CEO and be involved in major strategic decisions for the company." Jobs said the same in 2009 when he was out for six months.

Gottheil didn't interpret Jobs' words from yesterday in the same way as Marshall. "There's just more uncertainty this time," Gottheil said of Jobs' use of the word "hope" on Monday. "That doesn't mean there's a higher likelihood that he won't return, it's just that he has less information this time. In 2009, he knew how long it would take to recover from [the transplant] surgery."

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