Does Steve Jobs have the right to keep his health private?
Apple Inc. has fans who look like members of a cult. So does the CEO, Steve Jobs. Only a few executives have this distinction in the world of high technology.
Decades ago, Jobs was a private citizen until he allied with Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne in 1976 to establish Apple Computer Inc. Since then, and especially in recent years—since his return to lead the company through some very dark times— Jobs has become the face of Apple and a celebrity.
Peter Oppenheimer seems to have a different opinion: the CFO and vice president tried — during a conference call on the company’s latest quarterly results — to brush off questions being raised in the media about his boss’s health.
Jobs’s health, according to Oppenheimer, “is a private matter,” adding that “Steve loves Apple. He works as CEO at the pleasure of the Apple board and has no plans to leave Apple.”
Oppenheimer is wrong, and his comments indicate that Apple’s management team is unwilling to openly admit how public Jobs has become and how much he has merged with Apple’s image, or perhaps fearing the impact of admitting it. Of course, executives prefer to minimize the very public fear of the impact that Apple would receive if something were to happen to Jobs.
Jobs is an ordinary citizen to the same extent that Mickey Mouse is a common field mouse. Jobs is a legend in the world of personal computers, and increasingly, too, in the world of consumer electronics, where he is credited with leading much-needed change in wireless telecommunications and the Internet. digital music with iPod and iTunes.
Steve Jobs’ family is his business alone; but news about his health and anything that might affect his performance belongs to the millions of Apple watchers worldwide who strongly associate him with the company’s image. If Jobs wanted something else, he should have chosen another path, like following Wozniak and Wayne.
If Jobs sneezes more than three times in a few minutes, it’s news; if he coughs, it’s great news; if he trips on the stairs, that’s huge news. If his life is in danger for any reason, it’s explosive news.
Jobs’ health consequences extend far beyond his immediate family. This reason, by itself, is enough to say that Jobs’s health is in the interest of all Apple shareholders.