If you don’t like it, keep your money

7 Jul 2009

I’ve long been frustrated with the incessant complaints about the lack of “disclosure” regarding the health of Apple’s CEO, Steve Jobs. There have been only a few voice in the crowd, albeit quiet ones, that have sounded the horn of reason and called for an easing of the cry for details on Jobs’ status in this existence. David Carr of the New York Times has stepped up to the plate and called for all of this insanity to end.

I completely understand and investors desire to have as much information regarding a publicly traded company. And because of Jobs iconic status with Apple, I can see how some shareholders would view his health as material information that must be disclosed. But it’s not. In fact, it’s not even close. So much so that I even wonder if the people clamoring for this information A) understand what information is required to be disclosed and B) are even current or potential investors. It seems to me that they’re more like obsessed Apple fanboys or absolute haters, on the till for Microsoft.

But all of that is missing the point. No matter who these people are, the fact of the matter is that Jobs deserves his privacy. As Carr points out, we have no guarantees about the health of any of our favorite CEO’s, so why should Jobs be so special?

In part, we all buy, sell and trade on someone’s health without knowing their fates. Sergey Brin or Larry Page, Google’s founders, may be fit as fiddles, but they could get run over tomorrow by a Prius in Palo Alto (a Prius would still hurt, right?).

I think the reason why Jobs has received more criticism than any other CEO on this topic is pretty plain to see. And again, Carr hits it on the head.

His status as a celebrity in the current moment is relevant to the clamor for full disclosure. The same sense of entitlement that leads many to think that it is right and proper to suck the marrow from Michael Jackson’s bones pertains to the living, as well. There is an expectation that if you are both famous and sick, you will open up a vein and let the blood flow toward everyone.

Jobs is a celebrity. Whether of his own doing or not, it’s an undeniable fact. And people have a creepy, irrational obsession with celebrities. It’s as if because we go to their movies, attend their comedy shows, camp out for their concerts or buy tickets for their games, that we have earned the right to be apprised of every minute detail of their lives. From what they eat for breakfast, to what they wear when they’re playing the bongos. 

But that doesn’t make it right, or justify the requests of the “investment community”. I don’t recall demands for reports of cholesterol counts for former McDonald’s CEO Jim Cantalupo leading up to his sudden death. And were analysts demanding weekly updates from the doctors of L-3 Communications former CEO and founder Frank C. Lanza after his esophagus surgery, two months prior to his death? Of course not. But now that a celebrity CEO is battling an illness, suddenly it’s different.

For me it’s plain to see that this issue sits at the edge of a slippery slope. If this, then what. As soon as Apple is required to give regular updates on Jobs health, what will investors be asking for next. Will they be wanting to know how many employees have been calling in sick at the Boeing plant in case a flu outbreak might stem productivity? Will they be requesting data on employee sleep patterns to make sure that they’re well-rested and productive every day? Will they be demanding to know what CEO’s are eating for lunch, fearing that taco day at the Goldman Sachs cafeteria may give Lloyd Blankfein diarrhea, causing him to be unfocussed in the afternoon negotiations for the next big acquisition? Where does the insanity stop?

Current and potential investors need to remember one thing. For all of it’s intricacies, elitists and activists, the stock market is still a very democratic system. You vote with your money. Granted asset  managers and wealthy individuals get more votes. And I’m not talking about proxy voting, strictly investing. If you don’t like how a certain company is doing business, don’t invest in them.

Plenty of investors don’t like how little financial information most Chinese companies provide. But they don’t go around complaining about their managements lack of disclosure. They just don’t give them their money, they don’t invest in them.

So if you don’t like how Apple is running their business, and you think they should be disclosing more about the status of Steve Jobs, that’s fine. Don’t invest in them. Put your money behind MSFT, HPQ, EMC, CSCO or someone else. Just stop all of the ridiculous whining.