Apple Did the Best It Could With Unpleasant News

There’s probably never an ideal time to announce that your visionary CEO — the man credited with revolutionizing consumer technology — is taking an indefinite leave of absence for medical reasons. But Apple probably handled the news that Steve Jobs was taking medical leave as well as a company possibly could.

Apple made the announcement on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, when the U.S. stock market was closed. That alone lessened the impact of knee-jerk reactions and softened the blow on the company’s stock price.

In addition to timing the announcement properly, Apple let it be known that daily oversight of the company would be turned over to Chief Operating Officer Tim D. Cook, who successfully ran the business during one of Mr. Jobs’s previous medical leaves.

Granted, it’s all but impossible to replace Mr. Jobs, who has beat pancreatic cancer but who also has looked frail at recent events following a liver transplant. But Apple did its best under the circumstances to allay investor concerns. The company will continue to be scrutinized and criticized by investors who say Apple should be more forthcoming with information about Mr. Jobs’s health, but the company has to weigh investor interest with Mr. Jobs’s privacy — a delicate balancing act, to say the least.

According to a report in The New York Times:

While Apple and Mr. Jobs provided no more details of his illness, Mr. Jobs suffers from immune system problems common in people who have received liver transplants, said a person who knows him well, but who requested anonymity in order to maintain a relationship.

As a result, his health suffers from frequent “ups and downs,” the person said. Mr. Jobs, who has tried to keep his condition private, has in recent weeks begun a down cycle. Mr. Jobs has reduced his trips to the office, coming in about two days a week, and has appeared increasingly emaciated, the person said. He has frequently had lunch in his office, rather than in the company cafeteria, the person said.

The important thing to remember is that executive transitions of any type matter to the market.  Even seemingly harmless transitions if communicated the wrong way can appear as a red flag to those not familiar with the matter.  Moreover, saying nothing is not an option because of the ever present fear of the unknown.  Companies have to communicate the news of a transition in a transparent but carefully planned way.  Apple did just that.

Self-promotional note: see my mention on KIAH 39 Mike McGuff’s blog.

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