Four months after Apple named him as its interim CEO in September 1997, Steve Jobs told a reporter that the search for a replacement was taking "a few months" longer than expected.
That was one of the bigger understatements in the storied career of Apple's co-founder, who on Wednesday announced he was dropping the "interim" from his title as company CEO.
In making his announcement, Jobs is angling to get his name into "The Guinness Book of World Records" as one of the rare executives who has successfully run two high-tech companies at the same time. In addition to Apple, Jobs has also been in charge of Pixar, the animated film company that has produced hits such as "Toy Story," "Toy Story 2" and "A Bug's Life".
But while the announcement came as a pleasant surprise to the Apple faithful, who erupted with a standing ovation at the disclosure during his Macworld keynote, Jobs was only formalising an arrangement that has existed since his return to Apple. "I'm very happy about this. I get to come to work every day and work with the best people at Apple and at Pixar," said Jobs, 44, who has held both jobs for the past two-and-a-half years.
Apple's board of directors may have also concluded that it was best not to rock the boat. Under Jobs' stewardship, the company's share price has recovered from its low in the midteens to more than $100.
But recruiters say that finding a successor to Jobs -- a strong-willed executive so wrapped up in the folklore of Silicon Valley -- would have been challenging under any circumstance. "I don't know if (Apple) was actively searching or going through the motions," said John Harlow, a managing director with the executive recruiter Korn Ferry International, who suggested that as long as Jobs remained as chairman "it would be impossible" to locate an effective successor.
"You're not going to be able to take someone from corporate America to take the job as long as he's there," he added.
Also see Powering up Apple: Macworld Expo Special.