Apple’s Steve Jobs has had health problems. And in our celebrity-obsessed society, that’s big news. Yes, I know that stockholders have a right to know about material matters that could affect the performance of a firm. And certainly Steve’s contribution to Apple is immeasurably important. But at some point we have to stand up to the relentless pursuit of what he is entitled to consider private information and say “Enough!”
Look, there is no doubt that there are corporate governance issues in American business to contend with. The nature of boards and their compensation committees, the degree to which they are often creatures of the executive team rather than overseeing them in a truly independent way, is a good example. Executive compensation scandals are another. And bonuses paid to execs of companies with poor performance. Let’s focus there, not on whether human beings in private jobs (not government officials, for whom some standards may need to be different) must disclose all their medical issues.
By all accounts, succession plans at Apple would include today’s COO Tim Cook, who guided the company well through a massive product launch and a Jobs-less WWDC, among other material events. Shareholders certainly want to know such plans are in place, and Apple needs to be transparent about how executive planning is done. But it’s time for the business press to stop acting like paparazzi. Personally, I’m tired of reading whiny stories like today’s Forbes pieces about whether hospital spokespersons told a reporter enough when asked about Jobs’ surgery. (I will not post the links here; if you insist on finding them, it’s not hard. I don’t wish to encourage the reporter’s behavior.) For those who are self-righteously hounding everyone concerned, and clogging the infosphere with “It wasn’t my fault, look at what they told me” notes, I can only say: it’s not about you. Let me offer a contrasting example:
In today’s WSJ article about Apple’s executive performance and succession, the following quote appeared in response to a reporter’s questions to Disney chairman, John Pepper, during Disney’s annual shareholders meeting in March after Jobs was a no-show.
“We have not thought at all of the contingency of Steve not being on this board,” Pepper said. “Our only thoughts are with him and his rapid recovery.”
That about does it for me. It’s not about us journalists. It would be appropriate to hear a little more similar concern for people, and a little less ambulance chasing. Let’s get on with it. Steve is. Welcome back, Steve, and good health to you.