As we noted yesterday, the wording of Steve Jobs’ email to Apple staff was not encouraging.Last time Steve took a medical leave, in 2009, his note to Apple said that he would be back in “June” and that he looked forward to seeing everyone “this summer.”
Yesterday’s note, meanwhile, sounded more emotional and less certain: “I love Apple so much, and I hope to be back as soon as I can.”
These notes, of course, are written not only to communicate with Apple staff. They are written to be released publicly, and the words are carefully chosen (and vetted by communications experts and lawyers). If Steve had been able to say with a high degree of confidence that he would return, and when, we suspect he would have said so. But he didn’t.
The good news, such as it is, is that Steve also did not say that he would not be coming back. He also did not relinquish his CEO title. And these things are important, too.
As a public company, Apple has a duty to update its shareholders about material information. It would take a very warped view of the world indeed to argue that Steve’s life is not material to Apple shareholders. Given this, if Steve Jobs’s medical leave were the result of a very dire near-term prognosis–if, say, he had been given a few weeks or months to live with little chance of recovery–Apple would almost certainly have to disclose that. And it didn’t.
This suggests–in our opinion, at least–that Steve has at least a reasonable chance of recovering from whatever caused the medical leave and returning to Apple. And we obviously hope that he does. The sooner the better.
The bad news is that, based on Apple’s prior disclosures about Steve’s health, we doubt Apple will say anything publicly about Steve’s condition until it absolutely has to. And if Steve’s prognosis is, in fact, dire, we imagine that Apple would interpret its disclosure requirements as “when multiple doctors and Steve agree that Steve has no chance of recovering and can no longer perform his duties as CEO.” Given Steve’s spirit, we imagine that that would be very close to the end.
Fortunately, yesterday’s disclosures imply that Steve has a reasonable chance of recovering and returning to the company.
Again, we certainly hope that he does. And we wish him and his family well.