If the CEO of a public company is sick, does the board has to tell the world? How sick? Life threatening? Enough to keep the person out of his work for an extended period?
McDonald’s (MCD) faced the issue several years ago. Its new CEO at the time developed cancer and eventually died. MCD named a temporary chief executive and told the world.
There has been a troubling suspicion that Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) has not been forthcoming enough about the health of Steve Jobs. He was OK and then he was not. The board probably knew that all was not well. It decided to keep that to itself. But, maybe the board grew restless and asked Jobs to take some time off.
Whatever the discussions were behind the door of the Apple boardroom, the SEC has decided that it wants to know about how the decisions surrounding the Jobs disclosure were made.
According to Bloomberg, "U.S. regulators are examining Apple Inc.’s disclosures about Chief Executive Officer Steve Jobs’s health problems to ensure investors weren’t misled."
The investigation may be unpleasant and may get into minutes of board meetings and e-mails and phone calls between board members. Did they have a fiduciary duty to public shareholders to disclose the issues with Jobs health? They certainly knew about it long before the outside world did.
The examination of the board’s activities may take some time and may set a precedent for how executive health issues get disclosed. And, it will certainly cause a wide debate about whether Apple did the right thing.
Douglas A. McIntyre