Steve Jobs: When Does Private Become Public?
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?