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?
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.