There is, unsurprisingly, a lot of talk about Steve Jobs’ illness. It’s understandable: Jobs is a person who thousands of Mac fans around the world think of more as a friend than just the CEO of the company whose computers they like.
This devotion and concern often manifests itself in a simple idea: Jobs’ health is his own business, and anyone suggesting that Apple should release information about it should be ashamed of themselves. My friend Joe Wilcox is getting a lot of stick at the moment for suggesting that Apple has handled things badly, and needs to start being honest with its shareholders about the state of Jobs’ health.
I can understand both sides in this argument. Anyone who has had a friend or family member be seriously ill knows what an intense and terrible experience it is, and the natural inclination of anyone is to want to keep as much private as possible. This is doubly-true if the illness is life-threatening.
But, Steve Jobs is also a senior executive of a publicly-traded company, and with that role comes certain responsibilities. Steve has responsibilities to his shareholders – and, importantly, so do Apple’s board of directors.
The illness of a senior executive is a classic area where boards need to be strong, and work for the shareholders. It’s a tough time for everyone, but the role of the board, as I’ll explain, means they have to look at things in a way which is impersonal – and which some might find insensitive.