Steve Jobs has returned to Apple as its active chief executive a few days ahead of the scheduled end of his medical leave, the company indicated on Monday.
Apple quoted Jobs and referred to him as the company’s chief executive in a press release touting the sales of 1m next-generation iPhones in their first weekend of availability.
It was the first time Jobs had been heard from in his official capacity since January, when he announced that he would need to take time off for unspecified medical issues. The company had not said in what capacity he would return.
“This effectively tells us he’s back in the job” with a backhanded disclosure, said Yair Reiner, an Oppenheimer & Co. analyst. “The intention here is to try to take Steve Jobs and not make him the lead of the story any more, to really try to refocus the investment community and Apple customers on the products and the expanding group of executives.”
But governance experts said the board was obliged to say more about Mr Jobs’ prognosis and the amount of time and energy he will be able to devote to the company.
“He’s Betty Crocker, he’s Mickey Mouse, he’s the embodiment of the company, and for that reason the board of directors owes all of its constituents some very candid information about his prospects,” said Nell Minow of the Corporate Library.
Apple’s stock has fluctuated on concerns about Mr Jobs’ health for more than a year.
He is widely regarded as a visionary technologist and marketer who brought the company back from near irrelevance with new Mac computers, the iPod and the iPhone.
Mr Jobs was struck by pancreatic cancer in 2004, and the Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend that he had received a liver transplant this year, suggesting that the cancer had metastasized to that organ. A transplant is no guarantee of recovery, analysts said.
Apple refused to confirm or deny the Journal report. Analysts said the timing of the news, which broke at midnight on Friday amid attention on the successful iPhone launch, appeared designed to distribute basic and arguably required information without drawing a spotlight.
“Some would argue that the liver transplant is the fix and is good news,” said Kirk Hanson, executive director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University. “Some would argue the liver transplant is bad news and ought to be disclosed to shareholders. It’s a close call and depends a lot on the specific medical details.”
The Securities and Exchange Commission has been investigating how Apple handled Mr Jobs’ health issues in the past. Mr Jobs said in January he was suffering from a hormone imbalance; less than two weeks later, he said he was taking time off because his medical issues were “complex”.
The board then “did a very poor job,” Mr Reiner said.
In Mr Jobs’ absence, Tim Cook, chief operating officer, has been running day-to-day affairs.
The fact that Mr Jobs did not appear at the introduction of the latest iPhone this month, and that his return has not been trumpeted, suggests that Apple plans to continue spreading the limelight around, Mr Reiner said.