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What Are We Entitled to Know About What Ails Apple’s CEO?

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, {complink 379|Apple Inc.} 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 {complink 502|AT&T Inc.}, {complink 8104|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.

13 comments on “What Are We Entitled to Know About What Ails Apple’s CEO?

  1. Barbara Jorgensen
    January 18, 2011

    Thanks, Bolaji, for a sensitive, well balanced article. The line between business and personal is a moving target for people such as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and dozens of others who are directly linked to their companies' fortunes. I'm not sure there is a guideline and I would hope people exercise their best judgment when possible. The reality is, Jobs health has a direct impact on Apple and its shareholders' stock. It's also directly linked to family, friends and a shared experience in being human. I think about Steve Jobs the person and I wish him well.

  2. eemom
    January 18, 2011

    To me, this sounds like Jobs is in for a battle (perhaps a long one) for which no one could predict the outcome.  I don't believe that anyone is “entitled” to know about Jobs' personal health struggles, he and others deserve their privacy.  If he is still involved as CEO, albeit remotely, to me means that he is planning on returning assuming a recovery. 
    Again, I choose to be optomistic for his prognosis and wish him well.

  3. Hawk
    January 18, 2011

    EEmom, It's not quite that simple. Apple cannot just pretend that events related to Steve Jobs personally have no impact on the company. Yes, he is entitled to his privacy. By this I mean he should expect to not get hounded by the media or anyone else. But by acting as if shareholders have no rights to any information about Jobs the company is fostering unnecessary speculations.

    They should say it as simply as possible, don't go into too much details about his health but talk about how the company is handling or plans to handle his absence and how other executives will be filling in. The company's shareholders, suppliers, etc., deserve to know at least that much. They don't need to know who is treating him, where and for how long. However, the information released by the company did not even address shareholders at all. Meanwhile, the company has 921 million shares outstanding and the owners have their future tied to Apple.

  4. Tim Votapka
    January 18, 2011

    There are several viewpoints to this situation. First off, I'd wish Steve Jobs the best of success as he handles whatever he's confronting. What he chooses to disclose about his personal health is his choice. Now from a PR standpoint, there's an obvious void there in terms of information. The sooner and more frequently Apple fills that void with confident, frequent news of how it's handling the situation the better. The more mystery the more speculation and rumor.

  5. eemom
    January 18, 2011

    Hawk

    While I agree that Apple has a responsibility to report to its shareholders, I do not agree that this responsibility extends to releasing information regarding Jobs' illness.  A letter specifically addressed to the shareholders is a good idea, however, I believe that such a letter would not state a lot more than the one addressed to the employees.  We know that Cook is acting CEO in his absence and that Jobs will be involved remotely.  How long Jobs will be gone and how much involvement he has may be questions that Jobs himself is not able to answer.

  6. Ms. Daisy
    January 18, 2011

    Bolaji:

    Your e-mail reflects the panic most share holders and suppliers have on hearing the news by Apple of Job's leave of absence. The furry of questions asked in your article “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? ” definitely describes the mood of most people hearing the news.

     

    As an executive director, I believe Apple has managed the crisis they are faced with fairly well, by releasing this news themselves and not allowing the news media to make up the story. I agree that they could have said a little more on how Jobs is personally dealing with problem, but all the health details are his private information and we should allow him to handle those.

     

    The other concern by Hawk about what other obligations does Apple owe the various audiences especially how the company is handling or plans to handle Jobs absence and how other executives will be filling in was put in a simple statement   – “the CFO, Tim Cook will be taking over the day to day operations of the company”. He had done this before and Apple survived and in fact thrived. 

     

    The ability of an organization to manage critical boundary relations, conduct exchanges in response to changes in both the internal/external environments, and develop its capacity for strategic responsiveness is not only paramount for the organization’s survival, but also the primer to the organizations pump in times of crisis like this. Jobs' top executives; Tim Cook, Phil Schiller, Jonathan Ive, and Scott Forstall  all have worked with Jobs and are clear about his approach to the future of computing – Simple, user friendly and universally usable. They are very capable of riding this tide again and emerge stronger at the other end. I am optimistic about Apple's future, especially with the provisio that Jobs will be providing guidance and direction while he is out.

    From a marketing perspective, sustainability is based on how these leaders are able to use strategic thinking, act, and learning as activities to manage the marketing environments in response to the uncertainties within these environments. This could be the transition phase for Jobs to ease out and Cooks to move the company on. Its a wild guess, but it might be the begining, who knows.

     

  7. DataCrunch
    January 18, 2011

    Apple shareholders may have been feeling a little unsettled with the unfortunate news about Jobs, but after hours today they must be feeling a whole lot better, since Apple’s quarterly earnings easily blew past projections.   With the iPhone coming to Verizon very soon, things should continue to look up for Apple.  Steve Jobs has led the company to a stellar performance and wish him well for a speedy recovery.   

  8. Jay_Bond
    January 18, 2011

    While I feel that Jobs health issues are a private matter between his family and his employer (Apples Board), there is a responsibility to share holders who are concerned over Apples key figure.

    Apple needs to approach this situation delicately. They are going to have to keep all necessary parties informed. Without going into great detail, if they stay silent the gossip and doubt is going to take over. Shareholders and consumers are going to start to wonder if Apple can keep up with developing new products that in recent years have dominated the market. If the board or Tim Cook continues to update the public with comments about how Jobs health is progressing and how he is still involved in the larger projects, confidence will stay strong. With silence, the only response is going to be doubt.

    I wish Steve Jobs the best, and hope for a speedy recovery with whatever ails him. I look forward to seeing what new developments he has in store for us.

     

  9. Anna Young
    January 19, 2011

    Bolaji,

    I share your concerns raised in your article, they are very reasonable. It is very well known about the pivotal role Steve Job played in the rise of Apple to its present status.

    However, his illness should remain within his private sphere and only known to those he has taken into his confidence. We must all remember that at some point in our lives, there is an endurance limit in respect of our bodies and in Steve's case he may have reached that threshold.

    What is important is how does Apple move forward from this sad news?

    As for me, I will continue to uphold Steve and his family in prayer and wish him a quick recovery from his illness. 

  10. Ms. Daisy
    January 19, 2011

    Jay_Bond

    This the best advice so far since the news of Jobs ailment! Communication is a key factor in keeping the grapevine news at bay. The more the executive team keeps their various audiences engaged and informed about Apples progress in Jobs absence, with punctuated direct messages from Jobs, the smoother they will ride this wave of uncertainty successfully.

  11. hwong
    January 21, 2011

    I really wish Steve will be ok and continue to manage the company. Who knows, without his vision and pecularity it is hard to tell whether Apple can continue its stream of revenue. People are concerned what will be the outcome without this visionary. That's the bottomline.

  12. Eldredge
    January 24, 2011

    As I see it,Steve Jobs has a right to privacy regarding his health issues aka HIPPA. If he choses to waive that right, it is his personal decision. The public has the right to buy,sell, or otherwise re-value their investment in Apple based on what they know or suspect. The best approach Apple can take is to reassure their stockholders that they have the vision and innovation they need, regardless of Steves' personal situation.

  13. Clairvoyant
    January 24, 2011

    It is a difficult issue for everyone involved with Apple, because Steve Jobs has had such a large impact on the success of the company. Not knowing exact details about the health issues leaves a lot of questions running around people minds. However I believe Steve should be entitled to privacy on this issue, just as anyone else would have the right to privacy.

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