Steve Jobs, Apple’s chief executive, will take indefinite leave because of undisclosed health problems, ceding day-to-day control to his chief operating officer while remaining involved in big decisions.
Apple’s founder broke the news to staff in an e-mail early on a US public holiday, limiting immediate stock market reaction. In Germany, Apple shares fell as much as 8 per cent.
In the e-mail, Mr Jobs said he hoped to be back “as soon as I can”. Mr Jobs had a liver transplant in 2009 during a six-month medical leave and his latest departure has raised concerns that his pancreatic cancer has returned.
Mr Jobs, 55, asked for privacy, and the company would not say whether cancer or another factor was involved. As in the past, investors complained that Apple was being overly secretive.
Toni Sacconaghi, a Sanford Bernstein analyst, said: “The fact that they are not acknowledging that his health is material and providing updates on that is incorrect.”
In 2004, Mr Jobs was diagnosed with a rare form of pancreatic cancer that produced a neuroendocrine tumour, affecting his hormonal system. Such tumours have many variants, making it hard to generalise about prospects.
Mr Jobs co-founded Apple in 1976 but was ousted in the mid-1980s after a power struggle. He returned in 1997, bringing the company back from near bankruptcy with products including the iPod, iPhone and iPad that helped it become the world’s second most valuable group by market value, behind ExxonMobil.
With each product, Mr Jobs was unusually closely involved for a chief executive, picking the projects and then overseeing the business deals and the design characteristics down to small details, employees said. He has most recently turned his attention to the market for internet-connected televisions.
On the most recent Apple earnings call three months ago, Mr Jobs told investors he felt fine. Even within Apple, the word was that he was well.
The timing of the announcement fits Apple’s past practice. Tim Cook, the chief operating officer, last week appeared at a long-anticipated event to announce that the iPhone would be coming to Verizon Wireless, the top US carrier.
On Tuesday, Apple is expected to report another extremely strong quarter of financial results, which should help allay immediate fears of disruption to the company’s strategy.
Additional reporting by Chris Nuttall in San Francisco