Apple succession planning key topic amid Jobs health worries

Summary:Apple's shareholder meeting is likely to celebrate stellar returns, hit products like the iPad and even Steve Jobs' birthday Feb. 24. However, the company is likely to be pushed on succession planning as worries about the CEO's health resurface.

Apple's shareholder meeting is likely to celebrate stellar returns, hit products like the iPad and even Steve Jobs' birthday Feb. 24. However, the company is likely to be pushed on succession planning as worries about the CEO's health resurface.

The company's annual shareholder powwow is set for 10 a.m. PST on Wednesday. The biggest item on the agenda is succession planning. Jobs last month took a medical leave, but remains CEO. Tim Cook, chief operating officer, takes over the day-to-day operations at Apple.

In the meantime, Jobs is focusing on his health and Apple's strategic decisions such as the latest subscription plan at the App Store, which has created a good bit of hubbub.

A pension fund, however, wants more detail on Apple's succession plan. Apple says coughing up those details takes away its competitive edge.

What's unclear is whether this succession plan proposal takes on greater urgency amid tabloid reports that Jobs' health is deteriorating. The National Enquirer reported that Jobs health is in decline and the CEO has a few weeks to live. Of course, this report is a bit of a stretch given it was based on a doctor who never saw Jobs and was making a prediction based on a photo of the CEO's butt.

Now Radar Online has video of Jobs leaving a restaurant and he's struggling to get into a car. The coverage leaves me squeamish. After all, it's not like we see Jobs walk around all day. He could have been walking like that for months, maybe years. Besides, shouldn't Jobs just be left to care for his health? In any case, Jobs was at a dinner with President Obama last week.

The rub here is that Jobs is a public figure and shareholders want information. It's a fine line to walk. In any case, these tabloid reports seem perfectly timed to put succession planning on the front burner at Apple.

A few observations ahead of Apple's meeting:

  • On the product front, Apple isn't going to miss a beat. The iPad 2 appears to be ready for lift-off, a MacBook Pro refresh is likely to land tomorrow and the iPhone 4 is humming along at the two largest carriers in the U.S.
  • The management bench at Apple is deep. Apple has done a good job over the last two years highlighting executives other than Jobs. If you believe Apple is Jobs you're a fool. No man could propel Apple this far by himself.
  • It's unknown whether Jobs' DNA is in Apple. Unfortunately, we won't know whether Jobs soul lives on through Apple until he's gone. But other executives have done it. Sam Walton still powers Wal-Mart and founders methods can carry on at companies. Is there any question that Walt Disney's DNA is sprinkled throughout Disney? It could be a similar situation with Jobs. Here's to hoping we don't find out anytime soon.

Topics: Health, Apple, CXO, IT Employment, Legal

About

Larry Dignan is Editor in Chief of ZDNet and SmartPlanet as well as Editorial Director of ZDNet's sister site TechRepublic. He was most recently Executive Editor of News and Blogs at ZDNet. Prior to that he was executive news editor at eWeek and news editor at Baseline. He also served as the East Coast news editor and finance editor at CN... Full Bio

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