Steve Jobs, the tech titan who co-founded Apple in 1976, was forced out of it in 1985, only to return in 1996, announced Wednesday afternoon that he was stepping down as CEO after nearly 14 years in the job.
In a letter to the company’s board of directors and the Apple community, he said it was time to turn the reins over to the next in line.
“I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come,” he wrote.
He also recommended that, under the company’s succession plan, Apple COO Tim Cook take the helm. Cook has been serving as interim chief executive while Jobs has been on medical leave.
In a statement, Apple said that Jobs has been elected to the chairman's post and Cook will join the board, effective immediately.
“Steve’s extraordinary vision and leadership saved Apple and guided it to its position as the world’s most innovative and valuable technology company,” said Art Levinson, chairman of Genentech, on behalf of Apple's board. “Steve has made countless contributions to Apple’s success, and he has attracted and inspired Apple’s immensely creative employees and world-class executive team.”
Levinson also said that Cook has the full backing of the board.
“Tim’s 13 years of service to Apple have been marked by outstanding performance, and he has demonstrated remarkable talent and sound judgment in everything he does,” he said.
But Wall Street appeared to show a little less confidence in the announcement. In after-hours trading, shares in the company fell about 5 percent to $356.
The news, which hit the wires Wednesday afternoon, took the tech industry by surprise. While Jobs has been on medical leave since January and was thought to be stepping back from an active role with the company, news of his resignation was described by many as “an end of an era.”
With Apple long a stock market high flier (and now the world's most valuable company), the announcement also had a profound effect on Wall Street. As one analyst put it, shortly after hearing the news, “OK, my life just went to hell.”
"Today reminds me of when Disney passed. We didn’t know how much Disney would change, but it was never the same and it never really got the magic back," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group. "I worry the same may be true of Apple."
Apple was designed around Jobs’s unique skill set and “Tim Cook is no Steve Jobs,” he said, recalling Microsoft after Bill Gates and Intel after Andrew Grove.
In anticipation of Jobs’s move, employees have begun to leave over the last 12 months and the company has already started to change, Enderle said.
“The product pipeline is good for at least 24 months, but the tight integration between product, launch, and marketing will likely start to fray immediately” he said.
Others say the company is still bigger than the man.
“Apple has one of the deepest management benches I have seen. It’s very clear that Apple as a company can continue to carry forward,” said Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies, a Silicon Valley technology consulting firm. “The culture that’s been defined with the construct of Apple over decades—Jobs has obviously brought his own brand to it, but the guys at Apple work there because they believe in Apple’s vision.”
Bajarin said that while the announcement was somewhat sudden, Jobs had previously told the board that when he could no longer serve as CEO he would step down.
“I’m concerned about Steve, but I’m not concerned about Apple,” he said.
Gene Munster, an analyst with Piper Jaffray, said that Apple’s five-year road map is in place and Cook is ready to lead to way. “Probably [Job’s] last great achievement as CEO is grooming his team to keep what he’s created going,” he said.
Echoing the sentiments that poured out over Twitter in the minutes following Apple’s announcement, Munster said, “It’s just a sad, sad day.”
“He’s been the single greatest inspiration for technology for the last 30 years,” he said. “No CEO has ever meant as much to a company since Henry Ford.”
In his letter, Jobs, whose iconic persona is synonymous with the company he started in his parents’ garage, struck a personal note.
“I believe Apple’s brightest and most innovative days are ahead of it. And I look forward to watching and contributing to its success in a new role,” he wrote. “I have made some of the best friends of my life at Apple, and I thank you all for the many years of being able to work alongside you.