25 January 2011

A Conundrum: Privacy vs. Investors Rights

Last week it was announced that Apple, Inc. CEO, Steve Jobs, had sought and been granted a leave of absence. This is the second year in a row Mr. Jobs has been on long-term medical leave to deal with issues that are apparently associated with pancreatic tumors. I say "apparently" because there is very little real information about his condition. This lack of information, alone, is quite amazing considering how beloved the man has become and the number of extremely devoted bloggers and fans that follow his every move.

This lack of information has real financial implications as the fortunes of Apple, more than any other company I can think of, rely heavily on the charisma of Mr. Jobs. How many folks who have only a passing interest in the electronics/computer industry stop down whenever Mr. Jobs, (arrayed in trademark blue jeans, black mock turtle neck, and tennis shoes) keeps his audience on edge as his new product introductions crescendo to a glorious finale with a great new product or feature? Thus, we should not be surprised that upon announcing his leave of absence Apple stock immediately declined. And, while the stock has far from tanked, there are many investors who are intently scouring data sources daily hoping to find a sliver of insight into Mr. Jobs' condition and prognosis.

All this leaves me in a philosophical conundrum!

I think it's fairly well known that I have some libertarian tendencies including the right to keep your private life private. I am especially fond of keeping medical records as private as an individual wishes (to the point I get uncomfortable when sports stars have their medical details so well chronicled in the press). But, in the case of Mr. Jobs, is it a "right" of investors to know Mr. Jobs' prognosis? I mean, his health is a critical piece of information that could affect many investors' decision of whether they wish to sell or retain their positions in the company! In fact, it could be argued that Mr. Jobs' ability to be present and involved in the day-to-day operation of the company is THE most important piece of investor information!

So, are there times when investors' rights outweigh the individual health information rights of key company figures? Down deep, I don't think so. I think it better to err on the side of caution and protect Mr. Jobs' health information if he so chooses. However, one thing is clear, Apple had better look to the future now and begin disconnecting their public image from that of Mr. Jobs (though I hope the man lives for many more years as I happen to really like the man).


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