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Jobs the great becoming corporate tyrant

Entrepreneurs are strong-willed. Even when a company goes public, the boss wants to control it, and if he delivers results he gets his way. But even Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. has 17 board members. Apple has six.

When I wrote at ZDNet Healthcare last year that Steve Jobs nearly died and lied about it the man's fanboys treated me like I was a Democratic Congressman voting for health care reform.

(This is the picture accompanying that article, Jobs speaking when he said he had a "hormone imbalance" that eventually required a liver transplant. Jobs had pancreatic cancer in 2004, and liver disease is common among such patients.)

Some 440 talkbacks resulted and at least one e-mailed death threat came in. More money for me, I suppose, but also lots of embarrassment. I tossed an apologetic note at the top of the post.

Turns out there was more than a little smoke there. The Wall Street Journal now reports that Jobs forbade his board from speaking up about his condition. Longtime director Jerry York, who passed away last week, said he almost resigned over the issue.

The Journal reports there are no plans to replace York on the board.

This happens sometimes. Entrepreneurs are strong-willed. Even when a company goes public, the boss wants to control it, and if he delivers results he gets his way. But even Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. has 17 board members. Apple has six.

Now Chairman Steve has more incentive than Chairman Rupert to be certain of a strong hand. He was toppled as CEO by a board revolt in 1985. It's a big part of his legend.

Jobs has become, in many ways, the Henry Ford of our time. He didn't invent the PC, just as Ford didn't invent the motor car. But he has been behind more innovation within the PC format than anyone else. The Macintosh. The NeXT. Pixar. The iPod. The iPhone. The man's made more revolutions than Mao.

But Henry Ford ran a private company. He bought out other shareholders in 1919. After his son Edsel died, the old man briefly came back as CEO, age 79, then appointed his grandson Henry Ford II as President before his death at age 83.

Jobs can't buy Apple. Institutions control 71.56% of the stock. It is a public company, and its executives are subject to the rules governing public company managers.

Those rules are there for a reason. What if Jobs had died of his liver disease? What if he's walking across the street tomorrow and gets hit by the proverbial bus?

Running a public company is more than a job, and more than a power base. It's a public trust. Entrepreneurs who treat the companies they manage as private property always end up in a bad way, and their investors end up worse.

I don't know whether Apple Inc. is underpriced, overpriced or fairly priced. I do know one thing for certain. There's a Steve Jobs bubble.

And one day it's going to pop.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com