Steve Jobs' health is the center of a discussion about CEO privacy - again! And once again it is a divisive issue. Doubt me? See the comments on my friend Joe Nocera's post yesterday. They say he hates Jobs, that he is using his illness for his own publicity and worse. Many claim to be Apple investors, saying that because they are fine with what Jobs is doing, Nocera should be.
And people wonder why they lose money in the stock market ......
CEO privacy on health matters is typically complicated. Putting personal issues aside, a CEO that goes into too much detail about his health problems can unnecessarily undermine his ability to lead. If a CEO is hospitalized for an asthma attack do his investors have a right to know? Untreated asthma attacks kills people all the time. I side with the privacy advocates on that one.
But the disclosure issues around Jobs' health are easy: Jobs has encouraged everyone inside and outside Apple to see him not just as its CEO but as an irreplaceable superhero. That means the state of his health is relevant to investors. Period.
This isn’t ghoulish. It’s business. Jobs’ ability to make others see him in exalted ways has been of measurable value to Apple above and beyond that of any ordinary CEO.
It enabled Apple to negotiate deals with record labels eight years ago when every other company had tried and failed. Why were those deals important? They were the engine behind Apple's iPod and iTunes store, which changed the way the world buys and listens to music.
Three year ago Jobs' charisma enabled Apple to build a cell phone in a totally new way - without the interference from carriers. The iPhone not only has been a hit, but it has changed the face of the wireless industry forever.
There is just no getting around the fact that without Jobs, Apple is not as valuable a company. He has worked hard to make investors think he is irreplaceable, and he has succeeded.
I don’t need to know Jobs’ prognosis. There is so little certainty in medicine that it would be meaningless. Dick Cheney has had a bad heart for nearly 30 years.
But now that Jobs is back at work, I’d like to see him stand up on stage, tell me once and for all what has happened to him in the past year, and tell me that, for now at least, he is OK. Jobs' doctor has finally spoken. Now we need to hear from the patient.
Doing that would certainly be better for Apple employees, investors, vendors and customers, than the outright deception and associated speculation that has been going on for the past year.