Apple CEO cites health-related issues as cause

Maybe we were right to be worried.

On Wednesday, Apple topper Steve Jobs took a six-month leave of absence from day-to-day operations to deal with health issues.

The leave, which comes nine days after he assured Wall Street that his doctors had gotten to the root of his medical problems, confirms at the very least that his condition is more complex than previously disclosed. The concern on Wall Street is that it is also considerably more serious. In 2004 Jobs was diagnosed with and treated for pancreatic cancer.

Apple’s stock has been hammered the past few months due to concerns about the CEO, who has appeared increasingly gaunt in recent months. Sure enough, news of Jobs’ absence after the market closed sent shares tumbling; after-hours trading was halted for a while. Shares, which closed at $85.33, were down 6% a few hours after the news broke.

Jobs, 53, a tech visionary who also co-founded Pixar, is considered one of Apple’s biggest assets, making his health more of a concern than a chief exec’s otherwise might be. Although the company survived without Jobs before, he has presided over a series of successful product launches since his 1997 return, including those of the iPod and iPhone.

It’s not clear how big an impact the scaling back of his presence will make. Chief operating officer Tim Cook will take over day-to-day ops until Jobs returns, as he did when Jobs was originally treated for cancer, and Jobs said he plans to remain involved in major strategic decisions during his leave. There are no immediate product launches in the offing.

Jobs, who has come under fire for not disclosing enough medical info, on Wednesday bemoaned the attention his health continues to draw.

“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,” he wrote in a Wednesday email to staffers. However, he also admitted that his “health-related issues are more complex than I originally thought.”

Jobs last publicly addressed his health on the eve of the annual Macworld confab, attempting to quell speculation that arose over his decision to skip the gathering of the Apple faithful this year. At that time, he attributed his weight loss to a hormone imbalance and said that the remedy was “relatively simple and straightforward.”

Jobs had a tumor removed from his pancreas in 2004. Ever since then, his health has been closely watched. Analysts immediately criticized Jobs, and Apple, for not going far enough in the latest statement, given his role as the head of a publicly traded company.

Jobs’ health could also have an impact on the Mouse House. The exec is Disney’s largest shareholder and has worked closely with topper Bob Iger on digital strategy and animation.

For now, Jobs is taking a relatively upbeat tack. Noting that Apple’s board fully supports his plan, he concluded his missive on this jaunty note: “I look forward to seeing all of you this summer.”

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