NYT's Joe Nocera-one of the reporters who speculated on the health of Apple's CEO after WWDC-got a call from Steve Jobs himself. It wasn't pretty from the very beginning:
"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."
What followed was Jobs setting the record straight and spilling the beans about his health.
Click to viewAfter agreeing to an off-the-record conversation, Jobs proceeded to tell Nocera that he didn't have cancer. All he had, what made him look thinner than usual, was something else that wasn't threatening his life. Nocera revealed this in an NYT article today, arguing that, while Jobs is not obligated by law to disclose his personal health as CEO of Apple, he should do it, for the interest of investors.
Should he really?
For sure, Steve Jobs' health is extremely important to Wall Street. After all, Jobs' unique vision is credited as the main factor of Apple's success. At least, that's the legend. A legend created by writers and analysts, who love to embellish history and make heroes (and villains) ignoring many other factors and actual history.
The truth is that, while there's no doubt that Steve Jobs is The Man, people should also look at all the facts. With any complex system, like Apple's, there are many variables that have contributed to the company's success during these years, starting with luck but, above all, the talent of the rest of the directors (Schiller, Rubinstein, Ive, to name a few) and, specially, the amazing engineers working at Apple, along with the hard work and dedication of the rest of the employees.
But let's forget about the pure facts. Let's trash any logical analysis and assume that Steve is the only guy responsible for Apple's success.
Should he disclose his health then, for the sake of the shareholders?
He doesn't have to.
His health doesn't have to be a public matter because he is perceived as the Hero who resurrected Apple. Not only because that's not entirely true, and Apple is not Steve, but "Steve + A Whole Lot More," but because private health is something that only concerns the individual and his freedom, independently of his role in companies and societies.
You don't have to go far to see clear examples of this, and how not disclosing a medical condition didn't affect the course of anything (actually, quite the contrary). Take US presidents, for example. Was FDR less of a president because he hid his medical condition from the American public? What about John F. Kennedy, who never disclosed his Addison's disease, even when asked specifically about it?
The answer is clear. FDR and JFK were in much higher positions, with much greater power, and in extremely difficult situations. Situations that would have really changed the world. Yet, they didn't disclose their medical conditions. They didn't make people lose. On the contrary, they made people win. One won a war and the other took us to the Moon. And what's more, it wasn't-and it isn't-illegal for them to hide it: It's not a crime for a president to withhold information about his or her health. In fact, it's their right not to disclose it.
So, if people with a lot more responsibility than Jobs kept their medical life secret, why should the Apple CEO disclose all the details about his, especially when these details are not about a life-threatening illness? Because of the investors? Because of a journalist who wants to tell a BIG story? Nocera argues, like some analysts, that it would be a disaster for Apple's stock and that's why people should be kept in the loop.
I disagree. And I think that anyone who values their private life, the most intimate part of themselves, their own bodies, would agree too, no matter if you are a fanboy, a hateboy, a journalist or an investor.
What's more: The fact is that I don't believe investors would leave Apple if Jobs leaves. Watching the people there now, watching how the iPhone steamrolls the competition, the iPod and iTunes and the Mac keep growing, people will stay. Probably some speculators will sell at first. After all, we are all human and have emotional reactions. But, after a while, it would be just fine. And one day, if the company as a whole fails, then the company will die. But many companies have survived the loss of CEOs as talented as Jobs. IBM didn't die. Disney didn't die. Sony didn't die.
As brilliant as Steve Jobs is, Apple will survive after he leaves. Personally, I just hope that he'll stay for as long as he wants. He's good for the industry and the world, because what Apple does keeps pushing technology forward. Hopefully he'll leave because he wants to, to live a long life, and not because of any illness.
But if he leaves because of a fatal illness, I'm positive that he'll step down and the board will elect someone else. Like they did before. That will be business as usual. Just like business was normal when he was off for cancer surgery and treatment. Nothing happened, everything worked as expected.
Until that day, Steve Jobs has the right to keep his medical records private for as long as he wants. Like FDR. Like JFK. Like any single person in this country and in the world. It's our right, as humans, to do so, as recognized by the United Nations.
And common sense. [NYT]