Minority Report: Is Steve Jobs really so essential?

Apple is in good hands

Apple is in good hands

Amidst the feverish media coverage over Steve Jobs' leave of absence from Apple, Seb Janacek points out that all is not so dire.

A fresh scandal was uncovered in Apple's Cupertino offices this week. Forget the problems over backdated share options, this one will rock the company to its core.

Apparently a group of people at Apple have been doing absolutely nothing for years. For the sake of argument we can call them "the executive management team".

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Or so media reports and analysts would have you believe.

Since Jobs announced he would take a six-month leave of absence from the company, coverage of his illness has been macabre and feverish in equal measure.

Analysts have speculated that should Jobs leave Apple, the company's value would plunge tens of billions of dollars.

The tech press is full of articles laden with predictions for the CEO's health based on assumptions. Never before have pancreas and liver consultants been so much in demand for speculative quotes from IT and business journalists.

Bloomberg in particular has published an astonishing article claiming the Apple boss is considering having a liver transplant. Astonishing mostly because it quotes a number of doctors which the news organisation admits have never treated Jobs or have any details about his medical condition - yet they feel comfortable discussing his prognosis.

The article also includes a quote from Jobs himself: "Why don't you guys leave me alone - why is this important?"

Good point.

Macworld executive editor Dan Miller put it neatly in his column last week: "You'd think they'd add a clause to the Hippocratic Oath - 'First, do no diagnoses of patients you've never seen.'"

Jobs is on leave until June and the rest of the Apple management team now has an opportunity to show investors, analysts and everyone else that, actually, they have a fair amount of experience at running multibillion-dollar technology companies.

This is their chance to show they have the right blend of marketing, technology, operational and financial management experience - and above all leadership - to keep the ship steady through difficult economic times. Interim CEO Tim Cook has a fearsome reputation and has run the company in Jobs' absence before.

Right now, Apple has arguably the best range of products it's ever had. It has three compelling businesses - Macs, digital music and mobile phones - and the iPhone is really starting to take off. Add to that the fact the company has a cash mountain approaching $25bn and it's easy to see Apple enduring the economic downturn without too much trouble.

Some have speculated that Jobs may have worked his final day at the company he founded with Steve Wozniak.

Others claim he will make a triumphant return in time for the Worldwide Developer Conference in June (the probable launch date for Snow Leopard, the latest operating system update). The operating system isn't looking to have a huge number of new features. Instead, Apple's engineers are working to fine tune the OS's health. Hopefully, an equally healthy Jobs will be there to purr over it.

If not, then the Apple management team will have had six months to prove to the world that the company does not stand and fall by one man. To do that it needs to turn out a couple of strong quarters and it is in a good position to do so.

If Jobs does not return to Apple in June for health or personal reasons, it will certainly be a great loss. But there would be no reason for investors to run screaming through the streets or for tens of billions of dollars to be wiped from the company's value - Apple is in safe hands.