Is the CEO’s health fair game?

A report today that the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating whether Apple Inc. disclosed ample information on the health of its CEO, Steve Jobs, leaves me feeling a little uneasy.

Is a chief executive’s health private? Public? A matter to be probed and exposed to unseemly scrutiny by investors and the press?

I guess we already know the reality: People will talk. As The Wall Street Journal noted in its Page 1 story today:

Questions about the health of the 53-year-old Mr. Jobs have hung over Apple for the past year since he began exhibiting noticeable weight loss, but the company and CEO have been reluctant to provide information and have said Mr. Jobs’s health is a private matter. Some investors and analysts have criticized the disclosures as inadequate, saying among other things that Mr. Jobs’s reference to a “hormone imbalance” was too general.

The news that Jobs would take a six-month leave for health reasons led to a 7% drop in after-hours trading, though AAPL bounced big-time today (did we mention sales and earnings were up?).

Certainly shareholders care. The CEO’s ability to continue managing has to be considered material – especially for a rock star whose personal brand is synonymous with the company’s success. One pundit said, “He is Apple.”

Reluctantly, I come down on the side of disclosing health problems that interrupt a CEO’s active engagement in managing. But the market doesn’t need medical details – only the facts of his involvement in the business.

Now, can we leave the man alone to get treatment and – we hope – conquer his health issues?


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