Apple's CEO succession plan: All we need to know is that it exists

Summary:When it comes to a CEO succession plan for Apple, it should be enough to know that a plan is in place. Releasing the details of that plan prematurely would be a bad move.

Years ago, when my kids were still wearing diapers and drinking from bottles, my wife and I decided that we needed a game plan in case something happened to either of us. Having that conversation was a very sobering experience, discussing all of the "what if" scenarios that could leave one of us as a single parent - or worse yet, leave our kids as orphans.

That last scenario is the worst. But, at one point, when she and I were heading on a cruise vacation that also involved a flight, we decided that we needed to put our wishes into writing - just in case we didn't make it back. And so we did - we wrote down our wishes for how our kids would be raised, put the document into a sealed envelope and put it away.

Here's the thing, though: We only told two people where that document could be found - our insurance agent (whom we know well) and a close friend. If something happened to us, they surely would hear about it and would be able to tell our parents where that document could be found.

Who we didn't tell were our parents - not because we didn't trust them, but because we didn't want to offend or hurt anyone's feelings about the path we'd chosen for our children. What if they didn't agree with our plan and it caused an argument or bad feelings? Certainly, that's not what we would want.

I share this story because the push for Apple to publicly disclose its CEO succession plan is grabbing headlines again. Now that Steve Jobs, a pancreatic cancer survivor who underwent a liver transplant in the summer of 2009, has taken yet another medical leave, shareholders are once again concerned about the fate of the company if Jobs takes a turn for the worst.

They have been calling for a public release of the succession plan - and now, the Institutional Shareholder Services has endorsed that push, according to a Financial Times report, adding more heat to an already sensitive topic. Apple, which says it has a succession plan in place is, of course, resisting such a disclosure.

When Jobs went on medical leave the last time and left Chief Operating Office Tim Cook in charge, there was a healthy debate on this blog as to whether Jobs - as an individual - had an expectation of privacy about his medical condition or whether the shareholders had a right to know more about something that could very well have a material impact on the company's future.

At this point, I'm inclined to side with Apple on this one. I agree that the shareholders should expect the company to step up with reassurances that Apple's executives and board of directors have talked about succession and have a plan in place in case it's needed.

But do we really need to know the details of the plan? Personally, I'm satisfied in knowing that an actual plan has been established. That's good enough for me - and should be good enough for anyone else.

Not only does that help Jobs maintain some privacy during what must be an incredibly difficult time for him but it also avoids the armchair quarterbacking that's sure to take place if the details are released. I can already imagine the frenzy of blog posts and TV talk show chatter that will try to break down every detail of that plan, pointing out anything and everything that could be perceived as a flaw or shortcoming.

Do we really need that sort of chatter around Apple - a company that beats all metrics when it comes to products, innovation and financial performance? While Jobs may be "the man" at Apple, it is not a company of one person. There are a number of talented and smart people on payroll - and, as illustrated during Jobs' last medical leave, the company didn't fall apart when he needed to step aside temporarily.

We can continue to have all of these discussions about succession plans - but at the end of the day, Apple would be smart to keep that plan in a sealed envelope, stashed away safely with the lawyers and out of the public eye.

If I were a shareholder, I'd be satisfied just knowing that there's a plan in place.

Topics: CXO, Apple, IT Employment

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