Steve Jobs is set to return to work at Apple (AAPL) on Monday–with questions still swirling about what is wrong with him, what his prognosis is, and what his ongoing role will be at the company.
If Apple were a normal company, investors could reasonably expect it to give them a full update on Steve’s health and future role, so they can assess the situation for themselves.
Given Apple’s past deceptions and omissions in this arena, however, investors can be forgiven for thinking they’ll instead be once again treated like dupes.
As the NYT’s Joe Nocera noted earlier this week, the news that Steve had had a liver transplant was published by the Wall Street Journal, not the company. Doctors have observed that if Steve’s pancreatic cancer spread to his liver, thus necessitating the transplant, his prognosis is likely significantly worse than it would have been if it had remained contained.
Of course, no one knows for sure, because, so far, Apple continues to maintain its ludicrous stance that Steve’s health and future role at the company is just a private matter–not a major question and concern for investors, customers, and employees.
In reality, it is both: A private matter AND material corporate information. And Apple needs to climb out of its reality distortion field and start treating it that way.
The SEC is already investigating Apple’s past communications about Steve. If Apple doesn’t issue a full statement about Steve’s health and role at the company going forward, Joe Nocera thinks the SEC should force it to. We agree.
[I]t struck me this week, as Apple once again threw a curtain of secrecy around Mr. Jobs’s health problems, that the company, and especially its directors, are asking an awful lot of the people who invest their money in the company. It is asking them, once again, to accept the idea that Mr. Jobs’s health is none of their business. Given the latest news, how can that possibly be true?
That news, of course, is that Mr. Jobs had a liver transplant a few months ago — news that, once again, was uncovered by the news media rather than being divulged by Apple. And once again we’re left in the dark about what this means. It is a separate problem from the pancreatic cancer he was operated for in 2004? Or does it mean that the cancer has returned — and spread?…
If Mr. Jobs had retired from Apple — or had taken an open-ended leave — then I would say yes, it’s his business and not his investors’. But he didn’t do that. He took a six-month leave, which ends on Monday. Already, he is reportedly back at work. But what does that mean? Is he fully back in the saddle? Is he part time? Is he involved only in big strategic decisions? Is he back to his old micromanaging self? Have we now reached the point, in other words, where his health is impinging on his ability to run Apple? That’s the real question, isn’t it? Are Mr. Jobs’s health problems affecting his work?
If the answer is no, the board should say so. If the answer is yes, the board should say that as well.