Jobs' medical leave: right to privacy vs right to know

Jobs' medical leave: right to privacy vs right to know

Summary: Steve Jobs dropped a bombshell of an announcement yesterday when he revealed that his medical condition was more complex than he'd previously known and that he was leaving his post as Apple CEO through the end of June so he could focus on his health.

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Steve Jobs dropped a bombshell of an announcement yesterday when he revealed that his medical condition was more complex than he'd previously known and that he was leaving his post as Apple CEO through the end of June so he could focus on his health. The announcement, in the form of an e-mailed letter from Jobs to employees, was pretty vague about his condition, offering few details and prompting Apple-watchers to raise a whole new set of questions about Apple, Jobs and this "more complex" medical condition.

What's really wrong with him? Is Jobs getting his pancreas removed as Bloomberg reports? Is the pancreatic cancer back? Or is this related to the hormone imbalance and weight loss thing? What about this food absorption problem the Journal and the Times are reporting? And can he really be expected to return in June, if at all? Should we finally start talking about succession plans? Bottom line: how serious is this for the company? And at what point does the public's right to know outweigh Steve Jobs' right to privacy? Don't look to me for the answer. I'm still torn on this one. Here's why:

Apple, as expected, has no official comment beyond Jobs' letter. But is that the right call? After all, it's not really a private matter anymore, is it? Steve's health is creating a potential impact on the company itself. Shares dropped as much as 10 percent in after-hours trading after the announcement but recovered to about a 7 percent dip. And today, traders around the globe have been and will be watching AAPL all day. Charlie Wolf, a financial analyst with Needham & Co., said in the Wall Street Journal article that the "Steve Jobs health" factor could cause the stock to fall an additional 10% to 15%.

It seems that, in this case, shareholders might want to know if there's something more to this, something that might adversely impact the stock performance. I can't help but wonder if the company should be doing something more to reassure the public that things will continue to run smoothly under the leadership of Tim Cook. Should there be a press conference or conference call where Cook makes some prepared statements to the media and analysts and then takes a handful of questions and then lays low until June? Don't we have the right to know more?

On the other hand, what more do we really need to know? We already know that his condition is more complex than the hormone imbalance he spoke of just before Macworld and that he needs rest. We know that he trusts Tim Cook with his company while he takes some time off and that he trusts Phil Schiller enough to take his place on stage at the company's final Macworld keynote speech. We also know that Wall Street already seems to have faith in Cook and the other execs to keep driving the ship. Piper Jaffray senior analyst Gene Munster wrote in a note:

We believe that during Jobs' absence, Apple's sales will be unaffected; in other words, Apple's customers will not stop buying products because of his absence. More importantly, we believe the pace of innovation will remain solid, driven by key product-minded executives. From an operational perspective, we expect Cook to maintain the same standard of excellence that he demands as COO.

But beyond all of that, we seem to have lost sight of the fact that this is about Steve Jobs, the human being, and a medical condition that he's battling. Love him or hate him, no one can deny that he's done wonders for not only Apple and the personal computer but also had a direct impact on the transformation of digital media, notably music and the way it's purchased and enjoyed. But at the end of the day, he's more than just Apple's CEO. For all we know, his new medical condition and all of the publicity have created new stresses in his personal life. Are the granular details of his condition really any of our concerns? Wouldn't any one of us want the respect of some privacy during what is sure to be a very trying time?

Also see: Why Schiller’s Macworld keynote is a big deal in the big picture;

Like I wrote above, I don't know which is more important - Steve Jobs' right to privacy or the public's right to know. If it were someone in my family, I'd want everyone to leave us alone and let us deal with it. But as a career journalist, I've been trained to drill in for detail and to always ask follow-up questions to give readers what they really want -  the details.

So what do you think? Cast a vote and chime into the discussion if you'd like.

[poll id=100]

Topics: Software, Apple, CXO, Enterprise Software, Legal, Security, IT Employment

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108 comments
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  • Even without Jobs Apple will remain the same this time arround

    I lot of people seem to fear Job's mortality and this is
    simply childish. Steve is a human being despite the fact
    that he is extremely bright and is responsible for some of
    the greatest innovations in the world of personal
    computing. He is also single handedly responsible for the
    recovery of Apple but lets face it, Apple Inc. is no longer
    just Jobs. It was 3 years ago but the more they diversify
    the less Jobs gets to control every aspect of the company.
    And yes it is uncertain weather or not Apple will remain
    the same without Jobs but I you should keep in mind that
    this time around all the execs were hand picked by Jobs
    and they are all people that share his vision. It was hardly
    the same the first time Jobs left Apple.
    cg0def
    • Conversely, Bullmer's impending first heart attack

      will have what effect on MSFT?
      Amelioration
    • dont care dont care dont care...

      How many people on ZDNet are Apple shareholders? A majority? I doubt it somewhat.

      So why the hell is this article so concerned about Apple's ability to keep turning profits, and whether Jobs' health will affect that?

      Bottom line: we're consumers, and even if Jobs died tomorrow (which, out of common decency, I hope he doesn't) Apple wouldn't go bust any time soon, won't have to make any drastic job-cutbacks, won't have to close any stores, won't have to curb R&D... So why should we care?
      bishofthedump
      • Just because it's not important to you

        doesn't mean it's not important to anyone.

        You have no way of knowing how many ZDnet readers own Apple stock, unless you poll them. But even then, the fact remains that Jobs's health issues is quite a relevant topic worth talking about to investors, even if you don't care about it.
        tikigawd
  • Most sensible line yet!

    [i]The conclusion of the the matter is, investors want to know about his health so they can sell their stock right away, if his outlook is grim.[/i]

    That is the most sensible thing I've heard anyone say about this matter. Its too bad for the investors (and great for Steve) that his health is a private matter and protected by regulations.
    Loverock Davidson
    • The Investors are stupid

      They have invested in APPL, NOT Steve Jobs.

      Apple is not a pseudonym for Steve Jobs, it is a company with many arms and legs spread out in many directions that will continue to innovate after he has passed.

      The stupidity of the investors is appauling... Let 'em sell their stock... and when it's affordable, I'll buy it, and then when Apple continues to gain popularity, I'll get rich of the stupidity of the market.
      Metronome49
      • What are you thinking?

        Of course Jobs has the right to privacy - except to the extent that "He is Apple and Apple is him." Investors have the right to know who is or will be at the helm of the company they have or will invest their money in, plain and simple. If he is withholding vital information, then he is concealing important facts that affect investor decisions and that's against SEC regulations.

        Your comment tells me you are the kind of investor who blindly gives money to some majic investment fund hoping that all works out well - regardless of who is managing the investment fund, what they invest your money in, etc. Doesn't work very well in the real world.

        So, yes, Steve Jobs has the right to privacy regarding the specifics of his health given that he removes himself COMPLETELY from Apple's operations.
        cjcon
      • We need to get off the personality cult.

        "Dictator for Life","King","Commander in Chief", "Lord" and other term; this type of creating a single person with powers well beyond any human capability is not logical and dangerous. We are all human beings and we are all not perfect and all have fallacies.
        Apple is Apple and Steve Jobs is just a good leader and others can take his place as needed if he is wise enough to do that and I believe he did. Good leaders groom good future leaders so they can take a vacation with worrying about hand holding the company or coup of the company.
        Also period of time will allow how well Steve Jobs groomed the leadership at Apple so there will good continuity at Apple so that Apple will remain strong.
        I hope Steve Jobs well and eventual recovery and return to helm of Apple when he sees fit.
        phatkat
      • That's why they're investors ...

        ... because they're too stupid to contribute to the world. They just waste their lives showing off and going "Me, me, me" all of the time.
        Amelioration
    • You're the staunchest supporter of shareholder greed

      via your inability to move away from the other big brand name.

      For as long as you are here sucking up to Microsoft, you may as well be saying that shareholders are entitled to demand a living autopsy on Jobs.
      Amelioration
      • You make no sense

        now go away while the rest of us have a grown-up discussion.
        Loverock Davidson
        • He makes perfect sense loverock,

          and making childish remarks about 'grown ups' won't cut it.

          nizuse
  • "Investor Greed"

    As always, the fanbois don't look at this as the business matter it is.
    Yes, Steve Jobs has a right to his privacy.
    Nevertheless, he has placed himself as the face of Apple, so it IS his responsibility to let investors know what's going on with him. Apple is a PUBLIC company. Without public investors the wouldn't have raised the money needed to get the company to where it is today.

    You speak of "investor greed," trying to make this into a five-year-old's good or evil view (reminds me of a certain outgoing president).
    Give me a break! When Apple decided to make the company public, and take the public's money they also agreed to be open about the things that affect people's investment. In the case of Apple Jobs's health is a big factor. He has enjoyed the benefit of the money people have given him and his company, so he OWES them an explanation.
    It's not greed, it's BUSINESS. Get off your high horse.

    Furthermore, it is pathetic to see the company still be as moronically secretive as ever. If they had been open about this from the onset the company value wouldn't be as affected by the speculation that is going on right now.

    Steve Jobs and Apple have made the problem worse than it should be by hiding behind the "this is a private matter" excuse. And to make it worse, they are continuing this approach.
    tikigawd
    • re: "Investor Greed"

      [i]Nevertheless, he has placed himself as the face of Apple, so it IS his responsibility to let investors know what's going on with him.[/i]

      While I agree he is very important to Apple... that importance does not overrule HIPAA.

      It is not his [b]responsibility[/b] to let investors know; it is his [b]choice[/b] to make.
      Badgered
      • Yes, it is his choice

        Sure, Apple is within their right to keep being secretive.

        The company will suffer accordingly.

        This is a business matter. You can quote the bible or get the Pope's blessing if you want.
        At the end of the day money talks and BS walks.
        tikigawd
      • It is "responsibility" up to the point that...

        investors have sufficient information to assess the value of the company. I am not sure where the legal responsibility ends, but there is an ethical responsibility up to that point. Beyond that is a choice and is simply to satisfy the nosiness of the public.
        FinanceBuzz
      • you don't choose the consequences of the action

        He CHOOSE to be the icon of the enterprise, therefore
        he CHOOSES all that goes along with it. THat means
        the responsibility to his shareholders so that they
        can make INFORMED choices; he's keeping them from
        making an informed choice, and he has no right to do
        that, regardless of his CHOICES. When your CHOICES
        affect others, you can take the coward's way out and
        say I want privacy, or you could do the right thing
        and let the people know.
        nancyjones36507
        • There are consequences, and we do have a choice

          If investor feel like pulling their money from the company, that is the consequence of his actions.

          If six months from now he returns to find the stock at 25 dollars, he cannot complain as that is the consequence of his choice for keeping his health a private matter.

          It is his coice on that front, our choice is whether we feel we wish to continue investing in the company
          GuidingLight
        • re: you don't choose....

          [i]He CHOOSE to be the icon of the enterprise, therefore he CHOOSES all that goes along with it..... and he has no right to do
          that, regardless of his CHOICES.[/i]

          ohh... so right, and yet so wrong. He has every right. Check the HIPAA regs. You may not like it, it may not be the "right" thing for shareholders, or the company... but he absolutely has the right.
          Badgered
      • HUH?

        He can't hide behind HIPAA when it comes to disclosing key information regarding the current and future management of a publicly traded/owned company. I don't think he must disclose the specifics of his illness nor what treatment he is or may receive, BUT he MUST divulge his "position/status" regarding company management and operations, period. Whether that position/status is due to health (physical and/or mental) issues or some other factor, if MUST be told to regulators and the investors (current and future).
        cjcon