Thursday, December 18, 2008
Steve Jobs: 42% vs. 4%
The oddest news of the week—Bernie Madoff-related news aside—has to be Apple’s explanation of Steve Jobs’ absence from the upcoming MacWorld, in today’s Wall Street Journal:
The company said it was scaling back on trade shows because they have become a “very minor part of how Apple reaches its customers.”
MacWorld is not just a “trade show.” It is a seriously big deal. It’s like Woodstock for Apple users. Just two short years ago Jobs announced the iPhone at MacWorld, setting off a 50-point run in Apple’s stock before the thing even hit the market.
So Jobs not going is no mere casual one-off: it’s like Obama suddenly announcing he has no plans to attend the upcoming inauguration, because, after all, what does it have to do with running the country?
Wall Street, of course, turns to worst-case explanations, including the never-ending speculation over Jobs’ health.
This is no small issue: big as Apple is, it is one of only two companies we can think of that appears to rely on the unique talents of one human being to do what they do especially well. (Berkshire Hathaway is the other.)
Jobs, as everyone knows, had pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer, as everyone knows, is about the worst cancer going. Five year survival rates of the most common (involving so-called exocrine pancreas cases) are 4 in 100.
Fortunately, Jobs had a rare, relatively good form of pancreatic cancer, an islet cell neuroendocrine tumor, for which he was treated with—according to Fortune Magazine—“a variation on the Whipple procedure,”
… a complex, Rube Goldberg-type operation in which surgeons remove the right-most section, or “head,” of the pancreas - as well as the gallbladder, part of the stomach, the lower half of the bile duct, and part of the small intestine - and then reassemble the whole thing in a new configuration. The severed surfaces of the stomach, bile duct, and remaining pancreas are stitched to the small intestine so that what’s left of the pancreas can continue to supply insulin and digestive enzymes.
Jobs has reportedly told associates he is cancer-free, and for all the constant speculation about whether or not this is really true, it shouldn’t be any wonder that he looks thinner than before, nor should it be a shock that maybe he’s not up to another MacWorld.
A doctor we consulted described what Jobs had as a seriously difficult surgery, with all sorts of post-surgery issues related to bodily functions nobody likes to think about, even though those issues are well worth the price of surviving pancreatic cancer.
As to those survival rates, according to the National Cancer Institute, “Cancers arising from endocrine elements of the pancreas [as opposed to the exocrine] were much less common and the 5-year survival rate was 42% [as opposed to 4% for the exocrine type].”
It’s been five years since Jobs was diagnosed, and 42% is, of course, much better than 4%.
And that is fortunate not merely for Jobs himself.
While Warren Buffett has added enormous value for thousands of shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway, Steve Jobs has done that and more: he's added enormous value for millions of people's lives.
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Posted by Jeff Matthews at 8:48 AM