Apple Talk: Just how core is Jobs to Apple's future?

It's hard to put a value on founder, visionary and showman Steve Jobs...

... a motion to reveal its succession policy at the annual meeting at the end of February. It might struggle now.

Much of the information is already available naturally. It's absurd to suggest that a company of Apple's size does not have succession plans in place. Indeed, the question is less about succession and more about how Apple will operate without Steve Jobs. We've already seen how, twice. The company managed just fine with Tim Cook at the helm.

The Bill Gates succession model
As for the succession plan? Arch-rival Microsoft may provide a possible model. When the equally iconic Bill Gates announced his own departure he shifted away from the company but remained in an advisory capacity as chairman.

The anxiety is more about how do you replace Steve Jobs? The answer is quite simple - you can't. Jobs is a unique presence: founder, visionary and showman. His character is linked to the company, both its success and its mythology.

Yet the prospect of Apple without Jobs is not what it was five years ago.

When he last went on medical leave in 2009, I wrote that the Apple management team would have "six months to prove to the world that the company does not stand and fall by one man. To do that it needs to turn out a couple of strong quarters, and it is in a good position to do so".

Apple has a strong executive team, almost $60bn in the bank, revenues and profits on an upwards trajectory, a premier brand and a highly established retail network. It also has strong product lines, two of which - the iPhone and the iPad - fall into nascent but rapidly growing markets that will sustain Apple for many, many years to come.

Respected internally and externally
It also has a fine deputy CEO in COO Tim Cook. He may not have the gravitas of Jobs but he is well respected internally and externally and has demonstrated he can run the company in the temporary absence of its iconic leader. He is undoubtedly in pole position to take over the CEO reins on a permanent basis.

The 2011 Apple is in a stunning position compared with where it was 10 years ago. In 2001, it wasn't even reporting quarterly revenues of $2bn, let alone quarterly profits of $6bn. In the short to medium term, the company is in very safe hands.

The nagging concern for Apple investors will be how to replace Jobs' ability to know where the puck will be in a few years' time, and managing the long-term vision when he finally decides to step aside for good.

Wu of Kaufman Bros said his organisation considered Jobs to be in the company of Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin and Walt Disney. There are few people of that calibre and they can't be replaced.

Apple hasn't put a timeframe on Jobs' medical leave but hopefully he'll be back soon and in better health.