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Steve Jobs Admits New Illness But Stays As CEO; Says Treatment Is Simple, Underway

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imageSteve Jobs went public this morning with the reason for his low profile of late — a hormone imbalance that he says is being treated while he remains CEO of Apple (NSDQ: AAPL). The news emerges after months of speculation about the prostate cancer survivor’s health, talk that ramped up last month after word that Jobs would not give his traditional Macworld keynote and has been hampering Apple’s stock. In a letter released as a press release as the market opened Monday morning, Jobs said it was that speculation that prompted him to make this disclosure:

“Unfortunately, my decision to have Phil (Schiller) deliver the Macworld keynote set off another flurry of rumors about my health, with some even publishing stories of me on my deathbed. I’ve decided to share something very personal with the Apple community so that we can all relax and enjoy the show tomorrow. As many of you know, I have been losing weight throughout 2008. The reason has been a mystery to me and my doctors. A few weeks ago, I decided that getting to the root cause of this and reversing it needed to become my #1 priority. Fortunately, after further testing, my doctors think they have found the cause — a hormone imbalance that has been ‘robbing’ me of the proteins my body needs to be healthy. Sophisticated blood tests have confirmed this diagnosis.”

His recovery could take until late spring but Jobs plans to remain as CEO, saying in the letter that he “will be the first one to step up and tell our Board of Directors if I can no longer continue to fulfill my duties as Apple’s CEO” and then tried to put the lid on the discussion: “So now I’ve said more than I wanted to say, and all that I am going to say, about this.”

In a statement released at the same time, the Apple board of directors said: “As we have said before, if there ever comes a day when Steve wants to retire or for other reasons cannot continue to fulfill his duties as Apple’s CEO, you will know it. Apple is very lucky to have Steve as its leader and CEO, and he deserves our complete and unwavering support during his recuperation. He most certainly has that from Apple and its Board.”

The public acknowledgment that Jobs is struggling with a new health problem is Apple’s effort to release the pressure building up from the mix of rumors that initially kicked into gear with his gaunt appearance earlier this year and the Tuesday start of a Jobs-less Macworld. It’s an announcement that could have been made last month — and, given the way that Jobs and Apple have traded on his reputation to pitch the company, it should have been. Yes, he has the right to privacy if he and the board believe the issue is not material to his ability to function as CEO, but the speculation was a serious distraction that ran the risk of overwhelming the messages the company wants to get across. So far, the stock is up by about 3 percent in early trading.

Update: Some strong words from MarketWatch’s Therese Poletti, who says Apple and Jobs didn’t go far enough: “Shareholders deserve more information than what Apple Inc. chief executive Steve Jobs was willing to disclose about his health Monday. Like, for instance, what are the company’s succession plans for a cancer-surviving CEO who — while not on his deathbed — clearly is not healthy right now. … Clearly, everyone involved is uncomfortable with this topic, especially because it involves the normally private issue of personal health. But Jobs is more closely entwined with the company he co-founded than practically any other CEO in the world. And Apple is in the process of becoming a textbook case of how not to handle shareholder communications. Remember, this is the company that kept investors in the dark about the original cancer diagnosis until Jobs was recuperating from surgery to remove it in 2004.”

Photo Credit: Danny Novo

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