The world's most valuable technology company can at times also act as one of the globe's more obtuse entities.
Tone deaf and seemingly oblivious to the implications of the news on shareholders, suppliers, customers, retailers, contractors, well-wishers, and especially detractors, Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) released an internal memo to alert the world that CEO Steve Jobs would be taking an indefinite leave of absence. (See: Apple's Jobs to take Medical Leave of Absence .)
I know many will argue pointedly that Steve Jobs's health problem is a personal issue and that others should leave him to deal with the issue privately. I agree but only up to a point. I personally want to wish Jobs the best as he takes on what may turn out to be the toughest fight of his life. I also pray (I am a praying man) that he will recover swiftly and return as quickly to what he likes doing -- leading Apple and helping the company pulverize the opposition.
But life is full of numerous twists and turns, many of them pleasant and quite a few ugly with tragic endings. Which is why Jobs's problem is a shared one, with millions of other stakeholders now weighing how his health problem would likely impact Apple and, by extension, their interest in this company. A flood of questions came into my mind when I saw the news release about Jobs's decision to hand over daily supervision of the company to Tim Cook, the chief operating officer.
The first set of questions was about Jobs himself and involved concerns for him and his family. These include: What exactly is wrong with Jobs? What is the prognosis, short and long-term? How is he getting treated? Will he make a full recovery? How is he personally dealing with this problem? And how are his family, relatives, closest friends, and associates dealing with this news?
Soon after writing my first comments on the news I began to think also about the various groups of people, companies, and other entities that Apple relates with on a daily basis. These include shareholders, component suppliers, contract manufacturers, retailers, customers, and corporate partners such as AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), Verizon Business , and other companies that market Apple products around the world.
The report of Jobs's planned leave of absence was unsettling for me as an editor of a news and community site that often writes about Apple; imagine how even more troubling it must be for all the partners the company has worldwide. I began to wonder for different reasons what exactly was wrong with Jobs and how this would affect those who either do or hope to do business with the company.
Which brings me to the second set of questions that tumbled into my mind moments after Apple released its statement regarding Jobs. These include the following: Why should Apple share or not share more information about Jobs than it already has? What kind of information (if any) is the world entitled to know about him? How and when should that information be disclosed? Who should tell Apple's various publics? And what other obligations does the company owe these various audiences?
Jobs himself chose to disclose very limited information about his health to Apple employees alone and did not address any other interested parties. I guess the assumption here is that nobody else has a right to know. Even then he only told Apple workers he was taking a leave of absence for health reasons. He also made it clear that Apple's board of directors had been informed and had agreed to his request. Cook would lead the company during his absence, he said.
But then the situation got even murkier. Jobs plans to "continue as CEO and be involved in major strategic decisions for the company," he said in the memo sent to employers. What exactly does that mean? Is he taking a working leave of absence or stepping aside completely to take care of himself? What exactly is going on with Jobs and what exactly are we entitled to know? That last question came up in 2009 when Jobs announced his first leave of absence and is out there still begging for an answer.