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Apple shares fall as Jobs takes sick leave

business Updated: Jan 15, 2009 22:48 IST
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Even as Apple Inc. acknowledges that all is not well, the extent of Steve Jobs’ health problems remains a closely guarded secret.

The Apple chief executive, a cancer survivor, said on Wednesday he is taking medical leave until June, a move that sent the company’s shares plunging seven per cent.

Apple’s chief operating officer, Tim Cook, will take over Jobs’ responsibilities while he is on leave, though Jobs said he plans to remain involved in major strategic decisions.

The announcement marks a reversal from just a week ago, when Jobs, 53, tried to assure investors and employees his recent weight loss was caused by an easily treatable hormone deficiency.

“The reason has been a mystery to me and my doctors,” Jobs said in a statement last week. Once tests revealed the problem, Jobs said he began a “relatively simple and straightforward” treatment and insisted he would remain at Apple’s helm. But investors weren’t reassured. Nor do Jobs’ medical issues seem to be quite so simple.

Jobs co-founded Apple with Steve Wozniak in 1976 at the dawn of the personal computer revolution. He was forced from the company in 1985 but returned as CEO in 1997, slashing unprofitable product lines and helping rescue the company from financial ruin.

Since then, under Jobs’ demanding leadership, Apple has churned out a string of sleek gadgets, from the iMac and the iPod to a new line of aluminum-covered Macbooks and the coveted iPhone. Many investors fear that without Jobs, Apple would not be able to sustain its growth or its high-end minimalist style.

Last week, Jobs said his disclosure of his hormone problem was “more than I wanted to say, and all that I am going to say” about his health. Medical experts not involved in Jobs’ treatment said it was unclear what was behind his weight loss, but some specialists said Jobs’ past pancreatic cancer could be the problem.

Cook, who ran Apple for two months in 2004 when Jobs was recovering from his cancer surgery, is seen as one of Jobs’' most likely successors.