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Steve Jobs has officially stepped down as CEO of Apple (AAPL). He made this decision, presumably, for medical reasons. Our best wishes go out to him in that regard. He is a rare visionary who has been able to implant his stamp on the world. Some have compared him to the great inventors of our times, including such luminaries as Thomas Edison.

The comparison may not feel right for everyone, but it is clear that Mr. Jobs has helped define how we use and interact with a number of different technologies—even if he didn’t create them. The “Jobs issue” has been on the minds of shareholders and investors for quite some time. Now, the question has to be faced: Is Apple still Apple without Steve Jobs?

In this one case, interestingly enough, there is a previous case to consult. One of the founding forces of the company, Steve Jobs is now virtually synonymous with Apple and its products. That wasn’t the case in 1985, however, when he was forced out of the company because of disagreements with the then CEO about the direction of the computer maker (Jobs was Chairman of the Board at the time).

Apple floundered badly after Jobs’ departure and, eventually, the company bought Jobs’ new company, called NeXT, to get him back in the corner office at Apple. The performance of the company (and its stock) since has been nothing short of dramatic, including the launch of the iPod, iPhone, iPad, and the iTunes media store. Products that have transformed the way the world interacts with music, movies, and each other.

Clearly, Mr. Jobs’ vision played a vital role in Apple’s success. Having him back at the helm was important to both the performance of the company and its shares. Investors are well aware of how vital his vision is to the company’s future. This is why there was such concern when his health became an issue. Now that he is leaving the CEO post, investors are not happy, initially sending the shares down about 3% on the news.

That, however, seems like a small amount for a company that is so tightly entwined with one employee. This is likely because the differences between the current situation and the one surrounding his ouster in 1985 are vast. The environment is not acrimonious as he leaves today and Jobs has, effectively, handpicked his successor. He is remaining Chairman, though he held that title shortly before his ouster in the mid 1980s. And, the company’s business is much stronger financially and market wise than it was in 1985, when it didn’t have the dominant position it holds today. There is every reason to believe that the company now has the financial and managerial strength to continue to build on Jobs’ vision even if he isn’t the acting CEO.

In fact, some are even suggesting that the company may move more aggressively now that Mr. Jobs has given up the day-to-day reins. One likely avenue for growth being bandied about is increasing the number of acquisitions the company makes. A large cash hoard will clearly make that possible, if the management team wishes to follow such a course of action. (Subscribers should read Value Line analyst Justin Hellman’s take on the company’s prospects after Jobs steps down.)

While Steve Jobs has had the good fortune to be an instrumental part of building a succession team, only time will tell what impact his departure as CEO will have on Apple. In the meantime, we should all wish a true American visionary the best of luck in his personal life.


At the time of this article's writing, the author did not have positions in any of the companies mentioned.