CUPERTINO, California Apple Inc Chief Executive Steve Jobs wasn't even there, but at times it seemed like it was all anyone talked about at the firm's annual shareholders' meeting on Wednesday.
In a lively, one-hour gathering at the firm's headquarters in Cupertino, shareholders asked about the absent executive, serenaded the charismatic corporate chieftain, and spoke privately about the continued mystery surrounding his health.
Jobs -- who co-founded Apple and is credited with transforming it into a consumer juggernaut after returning as CEO a decade ago -- announced in January he would take a five-month leave of absence, handing over the reins of the firm and saying his health problems were "more complex" than originally thought.
All executives would say was that Jobs remained deeply involved in decision-making despite ceding control over day-to-day operations -- adhering almost verbatim to previous statements on a subject of persistent market speculation.
"If there's new information that we deem important to disclose, that will happen," said co-lead director Arthur Levinson, CEO of Genentech, adding that the board has met all its disclosure responsibilities.
The company also declined to answer questions about reports that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission was examining Apple's conduct in disclosing Jobs' health problems, which will keep the widely respected executive sidelined till at least June.
Some bristled at the board's continued reticence on Jobs' status. AFL-CIO representative Brandon Rees, who pinpointed on the company's disclosures during a question-and-answer session, said he was not satisfied after the meeting.
"I was disappointed that the board was not more forthcoming ... It's an important shareholder question, as to who will lead this company."
But it was clear Jobs continued to command the loyal support and affection of attendees. Shareholders even launched into an impromptu chorus of "Happy Birthday" for Jobs, who turned 54 Tuesday.
JUST WASN'T THE SAME
Shareholders noted that the meeting just wasn't the same without the charismatic Jobs.
Neal Pann said he believed in both the company's executive team and its prospects, but sounded a note of pessimism around the lack of information about Jobs' health.
"I got the response I expected, which was no response."
Getting down to more mundane business, shareholders voted to re-elect the company's eight-member board, which included Google CEO Eric Schmidt and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, who attended the meeting.
And four proposals -- all opposed by the company, including a so-called "say-on-pay" resolution -- failed to garner shareholder approval.
Proposals related to a company environmental sustainability report, political contributions and health care also failed to pass.
During his presentation, Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook said the company's annual revenue has nearly quadrupled over the past four years on surging sales of Macintosh computers, iPods and iPhones. Apple is widely acknowledged as one of the most powerful brands in the world.
But the issue of Jobs himself -- often portrayed as a tech visionary and the main thrust behind Apple's current market prowess -- was never far from investors' minds.
In 2004, Jobs was treated for a rare type of pancreatic cancer. He appeared gaunt at an Apple event in June 2008, touching off rumors that his cancer had returned. The company has not managed to completely quash that speculation.
Facing a prolonged recession and drought in consumer spending, Apple has been unable to shake questions regarding the future of its charismatic CEO, who has been out of public view for more than a month.
Legal experts say Apple could face lawsuits over its health-related disclosures -- or lack thereof -- although that part of the law is seen as something of a gray area.