Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Ain't Nobody's Business If Jobs Is or Isn't

So, I have been standing by, trying to make sense of the debate that has swirled around Apple CEO, Co-Founder and font-of-all, Steve Jobs, with regard to his health or, more specifically, the lack thereof.

And after listening to all of the debate about it–mostly indignant declarations by the media, making their case mostly by wheedling milder indignant declarations from stock analysts and corporate tsk-tsk outfits–I have concluded that what is ailing Jobs is exactly no one’s business.

Even if his every breath is critical to the ongoing operations of Apple, the reason most use as their main argument for Jobs to tell all, it goes double.

Why?

Well, any Apple (AAPL) investor has to know by now that Jobs suffered from a rather serious bout with a curable version of pancreatic cancer some years ago and that recovery includes inevitable complications.

That was on display when he took to the stage of Apple’s most recent Worldwide Developers Conference in mid-June and looked really gaunt and unhealthy. It was obviously hard to look away.

People immediately reacted like it was the end of the world–which is no surprise given Apple’s rabid following–and began to suddenly acquire instant medical degrees and diagnose Jobs on the spot.

In its typically secretive style, Apple did not help matters by throwing out a thin gruel of information and noting it was only a common bug.

Of course, that felt like a bigger whopper than usual–even if he did, in fact, also have a cold, it kind of begged the question of what accounted for the rest of his haggard appearance.

In any case, the chatter went on and on, right up until the most recent quarterly earnings call when Apple’s CFO said, when asked that Jobs’s health, that it was a “private matter.”

Immediately, that sent the debate into a frenzy, as armchair word detectives went into overdrive about exactly what that meant. (Personally, I think it meant that Apple was saying Jobs’s health was a private matter.)

This weekend, the noise level reached a quantum level after Jobs made a can’t-make-this-up statement to New York Times columnist Joe Nocera, who was inquiring as to Jobs’s well-being:

“This is Steve Jobs. You think I’m an arrogant [expletive] who thinks he’s above the law, and I think you’re a slime bucket who gets most of his facts wrong.”

Now that just cracked me up, given all that had gone on before, although some were once again indignant over the gall of a major company CEO making such a statement.

Obviously, they have never met or heard Jobs, who is well known for doing such things pretty much all the time.

And that’s the problem here and my main argument for leaving him be:

1) As I said, Apple investors who have not figured Jobs’s precarious health–after a round with any kind of cancer–into their investment strategies about Apple going forward need some serious reality medication themselves.

Guess what? Jobs has been really sick and it means he is going to have a harder time with any kind of infection or complication for the rest of his life, and he will likely be more delicate than someone who has not had cancer.

By the way, the take-away from the Nocera article and an earlier one last week in the New York Times was that Jobs had been quite ill, but not life-threateningly ill. Which was Jobs’s way of getting out the news.

2) Jobs is one of the most important CEOs, in relation to his company, around. (Warren Buffett, who did choose to reveal all when he was sick, is the other.) And that’s another thing investors should be figuring into their calculations on the worth of the stock.

As Jobs himself said in a famous commencement speech to Stanford University: “No one wants to die. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it.”

You don’t have to get as dramatic as all that to know that when you are talking about such a charismatic and critical CEO as Jobs, any lack of involvement by him–like say going on a year-long yoga retreat–is going to be a problem that investors are buying when they buy the stock.

Of course, there are other Apple employees making things work at the company, although it sometimes feels as if Jobs is crafting every iPhone that goes out.

But it’s obviously the Steve Jobs Show, and investors risk that when they buy such a ticket–kind of like anyone who bought a ticket to Celine Dion’s recent show in Las Vegas and hoped she would not get, like, a common cold!

3) And, of course, we get to the secretive Apple culture story line in every single story, which is trotted out like it is a surprise and we should all be so angry about it and demand change.

Again, have we not been paying attention all these many years? When has Apple not been secretive, except when it suits itself?

Here are a few more shockers for those still stewing about Apple’s secretiveness: Sen. Barack Obama is African-American and Sen. John McCain is old and some people in the country are racist and ageist and may hold those things against them in the upcoming Presidential election!

All kidding aside, it’s the same media that wait in eager anticipation when Jobs doles out the often-disingenuous tidbits about various Apple products coming and then hype them to the high heavens for him when he deigns to unveil them.

In other words, the Steve Jobs you are getting right now is the Steve Jobs you have always gotten–on his terms, what he wants to say and when and how.

So don’t be surprised when he does just that.

Meanwhile, Jobs has come to our D: All Things Digital conference many times and chatted up a storm. Here he is in a highlights reel of the historic joint interview with Microsoft CEO and Founder Bill Gates in 2007.

In it, Jobs is quite voluble about their longtime rivalry and also reveals their secret relationship that dares not speak its name (he is kidding):


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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus