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Get well Steve, and get a plan

Steve Jobs' Silicon valley colleagues wish him the best, but like everyone else, they wonder what's next for Apple.

By Michael V. Copeland, senior writer
January 15, 2009: 3:49 PM ET

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SAN FRANCISCO (Fortune) -- A day after Steve Jobs announced he would take a medical leave of absence, the Apple CEO's Silicon Valley colleagues are first and foremost wishing him well. There seems to be a consensus that Jobs has disclosed what he needs to, and that in the short-term, at least, the details of his health are a private matter.

But now more than ever, his colleagues also believe that Apple needs to put forth its plan for a scenario where Jobs does not return in a full-time capacity.

"Let him deal with his health on his own, it is not a business issue," says Marten Mickos, a senior vice-president at Sun Microsystems (JAVA, Fortune 500). "No matter whether CEOs are healthy or not, there is always a risk that they will suddenly become unable to do their job. What could be discussed publicly is what kind of succession plan Apple generally has. That's a worthy topic in my mind."

One of Google's (GOOG, Fortune 500) earliest investors Ram Shriram agrees. "It is especially important for large-cap companies to have a clear plan of succession in place for any eventuality," he says. "Companies where there is continuity without disruption in the succession planning process tend to do better over the long-term."

How well Apple (AAPL, Fortune 500) would fare without Jobs is, of course, the next area of focus here in the Valley and beyond. Jobs gave (CRM) CEO Marc Benioff his first job writing software in 1984. "There is no greater leader in our industry than Steve Jobs," Benioff says.

That said, But most in the Valley think Apple will continue to dominate its competitors even without Jobs at the helm day today. Consider the runaway success of the iPhone, and the increasing share of the PC market Apple is grabbing.

"Apple has never been in a stronger position than it is today," says Bill Gurley, a venture capitalist with Benchmark Capital. "If the company can't succeed with the head-start, then it is a sad indictment of just how hard it is to hire great CEOs."

Gina Bianchini, a Cupertino native and CEO of Web startup Ning, suggests looking at Apple's financial results as a barometer during Jobs' absence. "If Apple continues to knock it out of the park - or at least doesn't crash and burn while others limp along - then he's done what he needed to do to ensure the ongoing health and success of Apple."

Pinning the future of the company on Jobs is not fair to the team he has put in place, says Marc Hedlund, CEO of Web startup WeSabe, and a force in the Valley's open software movement.

"I think Apple did the right thing, and all the sturm und drang about it is ridiculous," Hedlund says. "I hope Steve gets better quickly and gets back to work, but on the other hand, Apple is made up of a huge number of extremely talented people. Putting too much emphasis on Steve's health as the sole determiner of Apple's worth is an insult to the people who work so hard to make Apple's products great." To top of page

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