Should a Company Disclose the Health of Its CEO?
Introduction – The Dilemma
Steve Jobs was a visionary individual who inarguably changed the world with the many products created through his leadership of Apple Inc. His death in 2011 ignited the ongoing debate on whether or not a CEO deserves privacy with respect to health concerns. During the entire duration of his battle with pancreatic cancer from 2003 to 2011, Apple kept his physical conditions in secrecy, thereby adhering to Jobs’ right for privacy (Mintz, 2014). However, this came at the cost to investors and shareholders, who criticized Apple as they were stripped from their right for timely, relevant and material information. ...view middle of the document...
However, Apple’s decision deprived the shareholders, potential investors and other major stakeholders of material and relevant information. Shareholders often viewed him synonymously with Apple and bought its shares in the hopes of “tapping into the genius of Jobs” (Berr, 2011). They argued that Steve Jobs was a crucial component in the success of Apple Inc. and that his ability to continue his leadership role was a major influence towards making informed investment decisions. Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway who himself disclosed detailed news of his prostate cancer, agreed: “Certainly Steve Jobs is important to Apple…Whether he is facing serious surgery or not is a material fact… Shareholders are going to find out about it anyway so I don’t see a big privacy issue” (Crippen, 2009).
The second question of the model is: “Which course of action will produce the greatest overall benefit for all stakeholders?” To maximize the benefit to both Jobs and the investors, Apple could have revealed only the important facts by answering the public’s concerns regarding Steve Jobs’ ability to continue leading Apple into the future. This course of action provides investors with enough information to make educated decisions while leaving extremely person details out of the spotlight, which ultimately satisfies both the millions of investors’ right to information and Steve Jobs’ right to privacy.
The third and fourth steps in the Ethical Decision-Making Model ask: “What are the rights of stakeholders? Which course of action respects the rights of individuals?” Alexa A. Perryman from the Kelly School of Business provided her opinion on shareholder rights through her academic journal, “When the CEO is ill: Keeping quiet or going public?” She argues that “Based on differences in power, prestige, compensation, and visibility, CEOs should not have the same expectations for privacy as do average company employees” (Perryman, 2009). Many viewed Steve Jobs as the visionary pioneer and many invested in Apple largely in part of his leadership capabilities (Berr, 2011). It follows, then, that the people who placed their money and trust in Apple deserve the right to have timely access to any material information. To respect this right, Apple would have had to disclose all the information necessary regarding Steve Jobs’ health. However, the other stakeholders, which include Steve Jobs and his family and friends, deserve the right to privacy and dignity. Without a doubt, the media frenzy surrounding the speculation of Jobs’ health conditions only made it more emotionally painful for those close to him.
The fifth and sixth questions Mintz poses are: “Which course of action treats people fairly and equally? Which course of action results in a fair distribution of benefits and burdens?” To treat everyone fairly and produce an equal distribution of benefits and burdens, there needed to have been a compromise between investors and the family of Steve Jobs. As...