That seems just fine with Wall Street as investors continue to bid up shares of Apple on the strength of the company's remarkable rebound from a $878m (540m) loss in calendar year 1997 to a $414m profit last year. Yet the relationship between Jobs and Apple continues to be one of studied ambiguity. Although he appears perfectly content splitting his time between the Cupertino, Californian computer maker and his other CEO stint at Pixar Animation Studios, Apple's interim CEO refuses to make a long-term commitment.
Of course, Jobs supporters counter that his decision to again take charge of company he co-founded with Steve Wozniak is commitment enough. "The board doesn't even talk about it," according to Bill Campbell, the chief executive of Intuit and an Apple board member. "I can't imagine anyone who would have better managed their company in the last two years than Steve Jobs."
During its most recent quarter, Apple earned $93m, up 69 percent from the same period a year earlier -- its sixth consecutive finish in the black. Revenues increased 9 percent to $1.5bn. Perhaps of equal note: Apple has ceased to be a round-robin soap opera marked more by executive intrigue and back-stabbing than by strong product development.
Jobs was brought on board to replace Gil Amelio, who was ousted in July 1997 amid growing worries that the company was beyond redemption. Since taking the helm in September of that year, Jobs has assembled and retained a strong management team that in turn has been responsible for turning out well regarded products, such as the fruity coloured iMac and the Power Mac G3 line. "Steve's a pied piper. The best I've ever seen in terms of being able to pull in executive resources," said Wes Richards, a managing partner at the executive recruitment firm, Heidrick & Struggles. "People want to work for him. One of the great attributes that few executives have that ability to recruit -- which is usually dependent on the name of the company or on its brand."
To be sure, there are very interesting motivational dynamics going on here. Jobs, who is paid a salary of $1 dollar a year, sold all the stock he received after Apple bought Next. (For the record, Jobs receives full-time benefits despite his part-time status.) What's more, analysts and former Apple executives say Jobs' unique history with the company served him well as he plotted out a strategy. "He is the only one who could have turned them around," said Jean-Louis Gassee, a former chief technology officer at Apple and now the CEO at Be Inc., who credited Jobs for using his personal personae to instil confidence and excitement with staff and customers. "Steve is the ultimate salesman. And, he commands a level of respect that keeps his people focused and keeps them on target. This was critical to Apple's turnaround."
Yet analysts say the legend of Steve permeates the company campus to such a degree that it may ultimately prove to be the biggest impediment standing in the way of finding a suitable replacement. They say a successor would find it hard enough stepping into Jobs' shoes, let along trying to step into the role with the former CEO still lurking around the company. "It's the old Groucho Marx thing: anybody they would want wouldn't come on board unless they had absolute control," said industry consultant Seymour Merrin. "There's no way in hell an intelligent person would take the post if Jobs was still around there."
To be sure, the board is not pushing Jobs to make a decision one way or the other. "Every day we have him we are better than if we didn't have him," says Campbell. At Heidrick & Struggles, which was originally charged with finding a replacement for Amelio, Richards professes not to have any inkling what Jobs is thinking . "All I know is what he's doing today. And he's incredibly excited to be there."