Apple Shareholders Shoot Themselves In the Foot Over Jobs Health Scare

January 6, 2009
Shivani Parmar, MPH

It’s official: Fortune magazine’s most powerful businessman of 2007, Steve Jobs, has a hormone imbalance.

It’s official: Fortune magazine’s most powerful businessman of 2007, Steve Jobs, has a hormone imbalance. What this exactly means though is still a mystery. Many questions have been circulating since March 2008 when Fortune wrote that Jobs had battled pancreatic cancer in 2003 and not disclosed it to his company for nine months. A sensational headline, “The Trouble with Steve Jobs: Yes, Apple’s on Top, but Does the CEO’s Reckless Behavior Put the Company and It’s Shareholders at Risk?” turned what could have been a story about a leader’s heroic battle with cancer into a story that challenged Jobs’s abilities as a CEO. Since then, news outlets from BusinessWeek to CNN have kept a constant tab on his health. Jobs’ gaunt appearance at the Worldwide Developer’s Conference and his decision not to present at the MacWorld conference only stoked the media frenzy. This unprecedented personal letter from Jobs directed at the Apple community, and meant to put shareholders’ minds at ease, might just have increased the flurry of interest.

Has Jobs’ cancer returned? Is his physical appearance the result of a side effect from his cancer treatment, such as diabetes? Or is it related to his history of intestinal problems? Can we expect a new CEO for Apple in the near future? Is this why Jobs is not presenting at the MacWorld conference? Though legally permissible, is Steve Jobs, the icon of Apple and CEO of a multi-billion dollar company, entitled to keep his medical records private?

It’s impressive that the unknown health status of one man can have such a profound effect on a company’s stock. In the second half of December 2008, amid rumors about his health and speculation regarding the reason why Apple Senior Vice President Phil Schiller would be presenting at the MacWorld conference instead of him, Apple shares lost 11%. On Monday, January 5, 2009, when Jobs issued a letter to the community, Apple shares rose almost 6%.

The real question, though, is why are we going through this again? By constantly speculating on the CEO’s health, Apple shareholders are simply shooting themselves in the foot. Worried that stock prices will drop if something happens to Jobs, shareholders are dropping their own stock prices simply by speculating about it.

While leading a company with the motto “Think Different,” Jobs has built a reputation on being innovative and original. He did this not by informing people of his plans, but by retreating behind closed doors and coming forward with products that no one could have expected. He’s achieved a reputation of always being one step ahead of the game. And it seems unlikely that someone always thinking ahead has not created a plan for the future of his company as well.