When Steve Jobs announced that he would not be speaking at this year’s
MacWorld, the blogosphere was rife with rumors that Apple’s superstar
CEO was battling serious health issues.

Jobs is a survivor of pancreatic cancer and therefore concerns over his
health are a constant issue. In recent times, Jobs has appeared
noticeably thin, prompting some to speculate that all was not well. His
decision not to speak at the next MacWorld, which will be the company’s last appearance at the show, only fueled further speculation and caused a drop in Apple’s share price.

Today, Jobs announced that he does have a health issue but that it is not as serious as some had believed.

According to an announcement released by Jobs through Apple, Jobs’ noticeable weight loss is due to “a hormone imbalance that has been ‘robbing’ me of the proteins my body needs to be healthy.

Jobs says that the diagnosis has been confirmed by “sophisticated blood tests” and that the “the remedy for this nutritional problem is relatively simple and straightforward.” He has already begun treatment and expects to have a clean bill of health by late Spring.

Jobs has decided to maintain his role as Apple’s CEO through that time.

The news that Jobs is not suffering from a serious illness is no doubt good news, especially for Apple customers, employees and shareholders. Shares of Apple stock rose more than 4% after the announcement was released as investor uncertainty over Jobs’ health has now been resolved.

But the impact of the rumors that Jobs might be on his deathbed revealed that Apple faces a unique situation that does not exist at most companies.

Despite the fact that Apple no doubt has top talent, Steve Jobs really has become Apple. Since his return to the helm in 1997, Apple has reached new heights with its computers as well as consumer devices, namely the iPod and iPhone.

Jobs’ is largely credited with providing the design and marketing savvy that has led to Apple’s recent success.

Obviously, Apple would not cease being a great company capable of producing great products if Jobs were to leave and Jobs’ announcement makes it clear that Apple isn’t facing the specter of losing him but the company does face the challenge of preparing for the inevitable day when Jobs once again retires.

Will the company be able to maintain the incredible brand equity Jobs has helped it acquire? Will Apple be able to replace Jobs’ personality with something that is equally appealing to Apple’s most loyal customers? Will Apple’s talented employees be able to innovate and rise to challenges as much without Jobs’ imagination leading the way?

Perhaps no major technology company is as dependent on its CEO as Apple. From Oracle to Google, both of which have strong CEOs who are very important to the company’s future, few companies seem to rely on their CEOs as much as Apple does. Steve Jobs is Apple’s best salesman and few other CEOs hold as much sway with consumers and their company’s stakeholders when they speak.

Even Bill Gates, whose name is still synonymous with Microsoft despite the fact that he is not involved in the company’s day-to-day operations, became increasingly irrelevant to Microsoft’s brand and positioning in the marketplace in the years before his de facto retirement.

That was a good thing for Microsoft, in my opinion, and while Apple should be thankful that Steve Jobs looks to be its leader for the foreseeable future, the company’s long-term success may be dependent upon proving to itself that it has some mojo of its own that will still be around once Jobs isn’t.