Responding to months of rumors about his health, Steve Jobs on Monday made the most detailed disclosure about the medical condition that has caused him to lose weight, but the brief announcement failed to halt criticism that Apple is not being sufficiently forthcoming.
Jobs said he is suffering from a hormone imbalance but that he would keep running the company. That reassured some investors, who pushed up Apple stock more than 4 percent. "There was definitely fear" he would have to step down, said Shaw Wu, a senior research analyst at Kaufman Bros.
But other analysts criticized how the company is handling the sensitive issue of its CEO's health, which it has previously described as a "private matter," saying the board owed shareholders more details about Jobs' health and his ability to continue running the company.
Monday's announcement is "another example of a culture of producing information for investors in dribs and drabs," said Stephen Davis, senior fellow at Yale University's Millstein Center for Corporate Governance and Performance, who said Apple should have been more forthcoming sooner.
Jobs, of course, is not a typical CEO. As much a pop icon as an executive, he is considered central to his company's innovative success. His every utterance is followed by legions of bloggers, business writers and technology analysts. It may have been a blog-post rumor that he was dying, which ricocheted around the Web last week, that finally prompted Jobs to respond.
"He is to that company what Mickey Mouse is to Disney, except Mickey Mouse is not going to get sick," said corporate governance expert Nell Minnow.
In an open letter to investors and consumers Monday, the Apple chief executive wrote that he had a hormone imbalance that is "robbing" his body of proteins, causing him to drastically lose weight and triggering deep concern about his condition in recent months. He did not say whether it is connected to his previous bout with cancer.
Jobs said he has begun treatment and will remain head of the Cupertino company. He said the treatment, which he did not describe but called "relatively simple and straightforward," will enable him to regain his weight by spring.
For months, Jobs and his company fended off questions about his gaunt appearance, saying his health was a private matter. Jobs battled pancreatic cancer four years ago and reportedly told the company's board last year that he was cancer free.
When Apple announced last month that Jobs would not give the keynote address today at Macworld in San Francisco, which will be the last Macworld the company will participate in, rumors about the co-founder's ill health spread across the Internet, sending Apple's
Jobs, who is loath to reveal information about his personal life, acknowledged the cloud of uncertainty hovering over Macworld, where Apple Senior Vice President Phil Schiller will take his place on the big stage.
"Unfortunately, my decision to have Phil deliver the Macworld keynote set off another flurry of rumors about my health, with some even publishing stories of me on my deathbed," he wrote.
Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster said the company was facing pressure from institutional investors and analysts to say something. But it was as much a marketing decision as it was one to soothe investors, he added.
The fixation on Jobs' health threatened to overshadow anything Apple announced at Macworld. While most analysts think it will be a relatively low-key event, the company is expected to offer up important product updates, such as a redesign to its Mac Mini, which comes without a monitor and keyboard, and an upgrade to its line of iMac desktops. It could also offer glimpses of Snow Leopard, the next-generation Macintosh operating system.
"This is more pre-emptive," Munster said. "If he didn't show up at the keynote, the entire keynote would be people asking, 'Where is Steve Jobs?' "
Apple's board of directors tried to reassure investors by releasing a statement saying that if Jobs decides to retire or becomes unable to perform his duties, "you will know it."
But Minnow and others said the board should tell shareholders it has fully investigated Jobs' health problems, is confident that he can continue at the helm of Apple and, if needed, has a succession plan in place.
"The board needs to do more to reassure shareholders that they are on the job," she said.
Jobs, though, appears to believe enough has been said. His letter ends:
"So now I've said more than I wanted to say, and all that I am going to say, about this."
Contact John Boudreau at email@example.com or (408) 278-3496.