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And I'm Renee Montagne. People think of Steven Jobs not just as the chief executive of Apple, he is Apple. So when a hospital in Memphis disclosed this week that Jobs received a liver transplant because he was the sickest patient on the list it raised new questions. One of them: should Apple have disclosed more about his condition to investors. NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports.
YUKI NOGUCHI: Apple is famously cagy when it comes to discussing its own affairs. It goes to great lengths to keep its products secret and it kept mum when its founder and chief cheerleader, once round faced, appeared like a gaunt stick figure on stage during a speech last fall. Onlookers wondered allowed, had Jobs' 2004 bout with pancreatic cancer returned. Apple share price faltered on the speculation.
And months later, this January, Apple said Jobs was taking medical leave to treat what it called a hormonal imbalance. As it turns out, some time in the last six months Jobs got so sick he catapulted to the front of the line among those awaiting liver donation at one of the major transplant hospitals.
Jobs' health is, of course, cause for concern for Apple investors, but so is the way the disclosure has been handled. Yesterday, fellow corporate icon Warren Buffett told CNBC it was a mistake for Apple to withhold the fact of Jobs' surgery from shareholders.
Mr. WARREN BUFFETT (Chairman, Berkshire Hathaway): Steve Jobs is important to Apple. And so it's a material fact. Whether he is facing serious surgery or not is a material fact.
NOGUCHI: Paul Hodgson agrees.
Mr. PAUL HODGSON (Senior research associate, The Corporate Library): I think this needs to be laid squarely on the shoulders of the board of Apple.
NOGUCHI: Hodgson is a senior research associate at The Corporate Library, an independent firm that does research on corporate governance.
Mr. HODGSON: Basically, the board has not really communicated anything to shareholders. Shareholders had to deal with rumor. And the board should've seen that and decided that facts, whatever are available at the time, are better than rumor.
NOGUCHI: Yes, Hodgson acknowledges, there are medical privacy issues. But the standards ought to be different when it comes to high profile executives.
Mr. HODGSON: Becoming a CEO and exposing yourself to the kind of limelight that that entails, typically, and especially with a company like Apple, then privacy issues have to be dealt with very differently from private citizens.
Mr. JEFF LLOYD (Managing director, Sitrick and Company): It is a complicated and a very complex and a very tricky situation for companies to go through.
NOGUCHI: That is Jeff Lloyd, managing director at Sitrick and Company, it handles crisis public relations for companies, though not for Apple. To be fair, Lloyd says, Apple faced a difficult choice. Going public with non-conclusive medical information about its executive could've left investors jittery and hurt the stock price. That might've done more damage than good.
But on balance, he says, he advises clients to disclose as much as possible to prevent rumors from flying. Often investors discover the truth after the fact anyway.
Mr. LLOYD: Then you've created a second problem. Why didn't you disclose this? Why didn't you let the shareholders know?
NOGUCHI: At the very least, Lloyd says, the board of directors should never let one person's fate control the fate of the company.
Mr. LLOYD: You don't accomplish what Apple has done just with one person. And I think that that is something that they need to communicate to the market and communicate to their shareholders, that this is not a one-man band.
NOGUCHI: Even executives that achieve demigod-like status, as Steve Jobs has for some, are, as they say, a perishable asset.
Yuki Noguchi, NPR News.