Steve Jobs dismisses as 'hogwash' rumor Apple board is searching for successor

Report claims company's directors in discussions with executive headhunters

Apple co-founder and chief executive is not having a report in the Wall Street Journal that the company's directors have been in talks with recruiters to eventually find his successor.

The WSJ, citing the usual "people familiar with the matter," wrote on Wednesday that "some members of Apple Inc.'s board have discussed CEO succession with executive recruiters and at least one head of a high-profile technology company."

(Also see: Survey: Two-thirds of companies irresponsible about CEO succession)

However, according to the article, Jobs was questioned about the talks and responded to the WSJ via email with, "I think it's hogwash."

Which, it's worth pointing out, isn't an outright dismissal.

The idea of implementing a CEO succession plan has been a constant topic for Apple since at least January, when Jobs -- who has a history of pancreatic cancer and other serious health problems -- took an indefinite medical leave of absence. It wasn't his first medical leave, either.

There are those -- myself included -- who believe that a board of directors has a responsibility to at least create a process or plan by which it can begin identifying potential successors to a company's chief executive. It's called being prepared for the inevitable.

This isn't to say that I think Jobs definitely won't be returning to his full-time job running Apple any time soon, if ever. I can't see into the future.

But neither can Apple's board, which is exactly the point. When you don't know what's going to happen, you prepare for contingencies. That's what responsible directors do.

The problem, of course, is that "board members have been hand-picked by Mr. Jobs," as the WSJ notes. There's an allegiance there, not to mention an aversion to rattling Wall Street with any actions that might suggest the person most responsible for Apple's spectacular success soon may no longer be part of the picture.

While the company in February rejected a proposal by some shareholders that it create and make public a CEO succession plan, I'm guessing they've addressed the topic in private.

Indeed, one of the WSJ's anonymous sources reportedly said directors have discussed succession repeatedly (without Jobs around) over the past dozen years. Whether it's ever gone beyond casual "we really should think about this" talk is anyone's guess, since the newspaper's source said "everybody in the room is sworn to secrecy."

Apple's continued string of spectacular quarters and record high stock price make it tempting for directors and investors to put the succession issue on the back burner. But it's not going away, no matter how many iPhones and iPads the company sells.

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