When Apple announced that Steve Jobs wouldn’t deliver the 2009 Macworld keynote, speculation ran wild about what, if anything, had befallen Apple’s trusty leader. Was Jobs taking a step back from the limelight? Had his cancer resurfaced, or spread? Was he attempting to groom a successor by letting other Apple executives take center stage?
Shortly thereafter, Apple announced that Jobs would be taking a 6 month voluntary leave of absence from the company he helped co-found in 1976. And that’s when the speculation really got out of control.
Well now that a few months have passed, we all know that Jobs underwent a liver transplant in Tenessee, and that he would eventually reclaim the Apple stage in September 2009 to introduce a new lineup of iPods.
But once it was determined that Jobs would be fine, issues regarding whether or not Apple should have been more forthcoming with news of Jobs’ condition began to emerge. While personal health is obviously a private matter, Jobs is the very public head of a very public company. Jobs’ connection to Apple as its CEO is arguably the strongest and most valuable one of its kind. Rightly or wrongly, the public is under the perception that Steve Jobs is Apple, and that without him steering the ship, Apple would sink. Now, given how smoothly Apple traversed the high seas under the command of COO Tim Cook during Jobs’ absence should alleviate some of those concerns, but still, Apple’s decision not to keep the public abreast of Jobs condition remains open to scrutiny.
Two weeks ago, Apple board member Jerome York passed away from a brain aneurysm. It has since been revealed by the WSJ that York was “disgusted” with Apple’s decision to keep Jobs’ condition secretive, and that he even pondered stepping down from his position.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal last year, Mr. York said he almost resigned when told of the seriousness of Mr. Jobs’s illness. Mr. York felt Mr. Jobs should have publicly disclosed his health problem three weeks earlier in a news release that announced his decision not to appear at the Macworld trade conference.
Mr. York said the concealment “disgusted” him, adding that the only reason he didn’t quit at the time was because he wanted to avoid the uproar that would have occurred once he disclosed his reason. “Frankly, I wish I had resigned then,” he said.
The Journal observes that Apple’s 6 member board of directors is extremely small given its size as a Fortune 500 company, a situation which makes it all the more likely that the directors will fall under the influence of Jobs’ charismatic ways and be less likely to exercise objective and independent judgement on important issues.
Speaking to the WSJ, corporate governance expert David Nadler opined, “An independent board represents the interests of shareholders and can challenge the CEO when necessary.”
Apple has yet to name a successor to York.