Steve Jobs: When Does Private Become Public?

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Since last Tuesday, we've sat on the sidelines as others have questioned Apple's openness about Steve Jobs and discussed the terse answer Peter Oppenheimer, Apple's CFO gave to Ben Reitzes (Lehman Brothers) when asked about Steve Jobs' health.

"Ben, Steve loves Apple. He serves as the CEO at the pleasure of Apple's board and has no plans to leave Apple. Steve’s health is a private matter."

We'll admit, at first, we thought, sure, it really is a private matter. But to be honest, we'll also admit right off the bat, some of us here at HH own AAPL stock as well. So we  have a financial interest in the "health" of Apple stock. While, of course, the price drop between the announcement of the iPhone 3G on June 10th (and Jobs' rather gaunt appearance) and Friday -- approximately $20 -- isn't completely attributable to Jobs' appearance at WWDC, rumors of his health sure as heck didn't help. Nor have the close-mouthed replies from Apple and Jobs. Now, Jobs survived a rare form (meaning surgically treatable) of pancreatic cancer in 2004,and his appearance at WWDC has fueled speculation over his current state of health. And the question arises: when do a public figure's private matters become something the public not just wants to know, but needs to know? I'm not the first to write about this. In fact, Joe Nocera of the NewYork Times discussed this on Saturday. And in his piece, Apple's Culture of Secrecy, he actually managed to get a statement from Steve Jobs, though admittedly off-the-record, and not all fit to print. The opening salvo from Jobs, on the phone, was:

 

“This is Steve Jobs. You think I’m an arrogant [expletive] who thinks he’s above the law, and I think you’re a slime bucket who gets most of his facts wrong.”

While many may agree that Jobs is arrogant, many would also say he's the heart and soul of Apple. Nocera was forced to promise to keep the conversation off-the-record, but he did say the following in his piece:

 

"Because the conversation was off the record, I cannot disclose what Mr. Jobs told me. Suffice it to say that I didn’t hear anything that contradicted the reporting that John Markoff and I did this week. While his health problems amounted to a good deal more than “a common bug,” they weren’t life-threatening and he doesn’t have a recurrence of cancer."

Naturally, we don't even know how sick Jobs was / is, but the points Nocera brought up in his piece about Apple's well-known secrecy, in terms of product matters and corporate matters, makes one wonder just how much they are hiding. A Fortune magazine piece in March noted that Jobs had cancer for nine months before revealing it to shareholders, and that:

 

"Jobs likes to make his own rules, whether the topic is computers, stock options, or even pancreatic cancer. The same traits that make him a great CEO drive him to put his company, and his investors, at risk."

While the number of shares we may own are a pittance, how do you think mutual fund companies may feel right about now, with the statements Apple made, or rather, did not make? Just when does a public figure's private matters become a matter of public interest? Readers?

replied on Mon, Jul 28 2008 1:11 AM

 I think everyone has a right to privacy. If he was in danger of hurting the company he would of said so probably. However, do you really want journalist around trying to take snap shots of you while your in the hospital. I wouldnt.

I dont think his health would really cause a product to not sale. So even if there was a negative change in the stock it would probably return.

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kid007 replied on Mon, Jul 28 2008 6:36 AM
i'm amazed that he didn't do a press conference! oh wait the lord of the geeks didn't do a stupid media stunt or youtube about introducing a new apple product, hoorayy!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Dave_HH replied on Mon, Jul 28 2008 9:23 AM
Agree Bri, I'm with you.

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ice91785 replied on Mon, Jul 28 2008 12:38 PM

I would tend to agree too....why does one man's health affect an entire company's sales? The answer: it doesn't in the long run. Granted Jobs is pretty much the face of Apple, but there are thousands of employees that actually keep the company expanding, engineering, selling.....Jobs for the most part is just a familiar face for us to tie to Apple. As morbid as it is, if he were to drop dead today, I am sure Apple as a company would barely flinch in terms of production and selling. If anything, sales would boom for a week or so with people wanting to buy "in rememberance of Steve"

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shanewu replied on Mon, Jul 28 2008 1:39 PM
I think our stock market is ridiculous...the fact that people freak out and sell their stock because Jobs is sick is ludicrous, plain and simple. WE cause our own problems with the stock market. If people would resist their knee-jerk responses more often, we'd have a more stable market and economy.

/steps off soapbox

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replied on Mon, Jul 28 2008 2:16 PM

 Goes to show that old saying rings true most of the time. "There is nothing to fear but fear itself"

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shanewu replied on Mon, Jul 28 2008 4:52 PM
Amen to that, brother. :)

"Everyone always wants new things. Everybody likes new inventions, new technology. People will never be replaced by machines. In the end, life and business are about human connections. And computers are about trying to murder you in a lake. And to me, the choice is easy." - Michael Scott (The Office)

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Honestly, how could anyone try to make the case that his health is a public matter. Although you may think that Apple would be nothing without Steve Jobs, the company will still survive. What his current state of health is for him and him only to know if thats what he wishes.

 

p.s. Does it even surprise you that APPLE! APPLE of all companies is being tight-lipped about something? remember the months and months of "we do not comment on rumors or speculation" responses to the press asking about a possible 3G iphone? i mean...this is apple we're talking about. Most likely, he had a bad case a of the flu and recovered in time for the announcement.

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