I’m sorry, but I can’t get around it any more. Over the weekend, we had a story in the reputable Wall Street Journal that Steve Jobs had a liver transplant two months ago in a hospital in Tennessee. This story got all over the Apple media – obviously – and was later confirmed by the hospital in question. All the usual questions arose about privacy, Warren Buffet had a remark about it, and so on. Let’s get all these stories out of the way in one go.
So, two months ago, Steve Jobs had a liver transplant. A fairly hefty procedure, but doable. The Wall Street Journal broke the story, but without any sources. This caused John Gruber to do some serious speculating, and I think his analysis then was pretty much spot on. Not long after, the hospital which treated Jobs confirmed the story, stating that Jobs was the highest on the risk list, and therefore, got the donor liver. The waiting list in Tennessee is considerably shorter than in other US states.
This news is very personal, you’d say. There are two basic camps when it comes to whether or not this news should be reported on. The first camp considers this a strict privacy matter, and they believe it should not be reported on in the news. It’s boulevard press material, celebrity watching, whatever you want to call it.
The other group – in which I belong – looks at this from a different angle. The cold and hard truth is that Apple is a publicly traded company. This means that Apple is owned by countless shareholders, who all have a clear stake in the success of the company. Whether people like to admit it or not, and whether it’s perceived or real, Steve Jobs is the biggest cog in the clockwork of Apple. Steve Jobs saved the company from sure bankruptcy in the second half of the ’90s, and is the figurehead for the company’s incredible resurrection as not only one of the biggest computer manufacturers of the world, but also one of the biggest forces in the entertainment industry. On top of that, under Jobs’ lead, the company successfully entered and forever changed the smartphone business.
Steve Jobs is Apple. Lots of people work with and under him, but Apple and Jobs have cosciously and willingly chosen to make Jobs the figurehead for Apple, the mascot, the public face. Without Jobs, Apple will be a completely different company. Note that I’m not saying they won’t see success without Jobs, but only that the company will be different. Significantly different.
Shareholders own Apple. They have the right to know what is going on with Steve Jobs’ health, because if Jobs were to become incapacitated (or god forbid, worse), it will have a direct and unequivocal effect on their (the shareholders’) property. As such, it was wrong of Apple not to inform their shareholders of what was truly going on with Jobs’ health.
“If I have any serious illness, or something coming up of an important nature, an operation or anything like that, I think the thing to do is just tell the American, the Berkshire shareholders about it. I work for ’em. Some people might think I’m important to the company. Certainly Steve Jobs is important to Apple. So it’s a material fact. Whether he is facing serious surgery or not is a material fact. Whether I’m facing serious surgery is a material fact. Whether (General Electric CEO) Jeff Immelt is, I mean, so I think that’s important.”
A material fact is necessary information in order to make an informed decision. I fully agree with Buffet.
It’s harsh and cold, but Steve Jobs chose to be the CEO, Apple chose to be a publicly traded company, and both Apple and Jobs chose to make Jobs the figurehead of the company. This has brought them many good, but you can’t just wiggle your way out of your responsibility when those choices are not working out at the moment.