Apple's CEO feels the bite

Gil Amelio's departure revives speculation that Steve Jobs will regain control of the struggling company. Cliff Joseph reports
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Another week, another management upheaval at Apple Computer. After barely 18 months in the job, Apple's chief executive officer, Gil Amelio, has joined the thousands of ex-employees who were laid off as a result of his own restructuring plans.

Although a final letter published on the Internet referred to his "looking forward to spending more time with my family", there's little doubt that Amelio's resignation came as a result of pressure from Apple's board of directors. And it revives speculation that Steve Jobs may once again take control of the company he founded in the early Eighties.

For the time being, Amelio's role is being taken over by Apple's chief financial officer, Fred Anderson. However, Jobs has been working as "strategic adviser" to Amelio since Apple's purchase of Jobs's NeXT software company six months ago.

Apple has also confirmed that Jobs will now be taking on wider responsibilities for product development, sales and marketing.

Amelio's resignation was followed by that of Ellen Hancock, who was brought to Apple by Amelio to take over the post of chief technology officer. Her responsibilities are now being handled by two of Jobs's colleagues from NeXT, Avie Tevanian and Jon Rubinstein, a fact that lends further weight to the talk of a "NeXT takeover".

However, Jobs also has a lucrative job as chief executive officer of Pixar, the computer graphics company that produced Toy Story for Walt Disney. "I don't know what conversations Steve has had with our board of directors," Anderson said last week, "but it's my understanding he's very comfortable in his role at Pixar and serving as consultant to our executive team."

Some industry insiders have suggested that Oracle's Larry Ellison may once more attempt to get involved with Apple. Ellison is a close friend of Jobs and has several times talked about mounting a takeover of Apple. No serious takeover attempt has ever materialised, though, and many of Apple's staff and customers have publicly disagreed with his stated plans for the company.

Many in the industry have welcomed the news of Amelio's departure, but it none the less comes at a bad time for Apple. The company will be announcing its latest financial results next week, and it is expected to have lost $50m-$70m. That follows losses of around $1.5bn in the previous year. Amelio had stated that his restructuring would return the company to profit by the end of this year, but Anderson now admits that that may not happen. This was almost certainly the reason for Amelio's resignation.

Whoever takes over as CEO will therefore be walking straight into a crisis. Apple's share price is currently at an all time low, and if next week's financial results are bad it may even find that it has trouble attracting applicants for the CEO's job.

A big loss will also take attention away from next week's launch of Mac OS 8. This is Apple's answer to Windows 95 and the company was hoping to make a very big noise about it, touting it as the first sign of a revitalised Applen

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