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What You Can Learn from Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ Health Transparency


Without an official statement from your company, your stakeholders will often fill the void with rumor and speculation.

I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve recited the above statement at conferences, on client calls, and in blog posts. For many businesses, it’s the one truth that finally gets them to embrace a radically transparent culture. The latest to realize this truth is Apple.

For many months speculation and rumor have circulated about the state of Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ health. That speculation hit a crescendo when it was announced he would not keynote the upcoming Macworld conference. The chart opposite demonstrates just how much that has effected Apple’s stock price.

So what could Apple and Steve Jobs do? There really was only one answer–and keeping quiet, was not it. In an rare open letter to Apple stakeholders, Steve Jobs is transparent about his state of health. Yes, he’s sick–and clearly he’s not comfortable talking about it. But, by being radically transparent, Jobs has revealed that the state of his health is not anything serious–leaving employees, customers, and investors with the confidence that Jobs will remain as the CEO of Apple for the foreseeable future.

Here’s Jobs’ open letter:

Dear Apple Community,

For the first time in a decade, I’m getting to spend the holiday season with my family, rather than intensely preparing for a Macworld keynote.

Unfortunately, my decision to have Phil deliver the Macworld keynote set off another flurry of rumors about my health, with some even publishing stories of me on my deathbed.

I’ve decided to share something very personal with the Apple community so that we can all relax and enjoy the show tomorrow.

As many of you know, I have been losing weight throughout 2008. The reason has been a mystery to me and my doctors. A few weeks ago, I decided that getting to the root cause of this and reversing it needed to become my #1 priority.

Fortunately, after further testing, my doctors think they have found the cause—a hormone imbalance that has been “robbing” me of the proteins my body needs to be healthy. Sophisticated blood tests have confirmed this diagnosis.

The remedy for this nutritional problem is relatively simple and straightforward, and I’ve already begun treatment. But, just like I didn’t lose this much weight and body mass in a week or a month, my doctors expect it will take me until late this Spring to regain it. I will continue as Apple’s CEO during my recovery.

I have given more than my all to Apple for the past 11 years now. I will be the first one to step up and tell our Board of Directors if I can no longer continue to fulfill my duties as Apple’s CEO. I hope the Apple community will support me in my recovery and know that I will always put what is best for Apple first.

So now I’ve said more than I wanted to say, and all that I am going to say, about this.

Steve

The lesson? If you want to avoid speculation and rumor from taking a stake in your reputation, you need to displace it with the truth–and quickly. In Job’s case, he may have felt that revealing he was having health issues, would have been to the detriment of the company. However, as he has learned, in the absence of the truth, the market constructed a scenario (some even suggesting he was dying) that had a much worse impact on Apple’s reputation.

Nothing kills rumor and speculation like a dose of the truth!

PS. Apple’s stock price is up almost 5% on Jobs’ statement.

  • http://www.free-istuff.co.uk Milo

    “PS. Apple’s stock price is up almost 5% on Jobs’ statement.”

    Hehe, I bet he didn’t blan for that :-P

  • http://www.gadgets4nowt.co.uk PS3

    This demonstrates once again just how forward thinking Steve Jobs and Apple really are. I take my hat off to them for divulging what is such a personal issue.

  • http://www.velvetblues.com Shirley

    Yes, it was definitely a good business move for him to divulge his health information. But really, this is a personal matter, and its crazy how the stock price definitely hinges on his health. Apple really needs to have someone else that inspires investor confidence.

    Shirley’s last blog post..Perhaps You Shouldn’t Blog!

  • http://thewutzup.com thewutzupphilippines

    I don’t think apple would be so affected. they just need to continue with their business

    thewutzupphilippines’s last blog post..Oprah and Ellen and Celine and Charice

  • http://www.seoresults.co.za/pages/seo-tools/ Jacques Seoman

    Just incredible isn’t it? So much hinging on one individual’s well-being. Apple must start making serious plans for succession, so that a groomed for the throne heir apparent can take over when Jobs finally has to step down.

  • http://www.marketingpilgrim.com Andy Beal

    Unfortunately, it’s a fact of life that many stakeholders do not distinguish between a CEO’s public and personal life.

    @Shirley – Apple could certainly groom someone else, but then what if that person ever became sick?

  • http://www.pizzaforadream.com PizzaForADream

    Well said. A great example of this is how Barack Obama handled his past drug use. He wrote about it in one of his books and because it was out there, it became a non-issue from the start. Clinton obviously didn’t use this approach with Monica Lewinsky.

  • http://www.rnbhaven.com R&B Love Songs

    I think wha this shows more than anything, is just how absurd of a stock Apple is. A company shouldn’t be that heavily influenced on rumor and gossip. Stock should be based purely on fact and not my emotional wonders.

  • http://www.greatpriceshere.com Nicole Price

    Absolutely brilliant piece of communication, even if it came a bit too late. Had this been done say a couple of months ago, unless the diagnosis had not been confirmed then, it would have been much better.

    Nicole Price’s last blog post..New Year Resolutions to Help You Save Money

  • http://www.petinsurancepro.com/sitemap/ Mikael

    But what if he had sent the letter out before the rumors started? Would that have prevented the stock from falling? One can only guess but I’m not sure that it would and if so then what could Apple have done to get it to rise again?

    Mikael’s last blog post..How to Find Affordable Pet Insurance for Dogs

  • http://quilmesverano.tv Quilmes Verano

    Radically transparent. Andy, you and your keyword placement crack me up! :D

  • http://www.marketingpilgrim.com Andy Beal

    @Quilmes – I’m contractually obliged to mention it once a month. ;-)

  • http://atniz.com Atniz

    it would definitely hurt the company but I think it is time to give Steve some break. I pray for his health and family.

    Atniz’s last blog post..Message To Work At Home Bloggers

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  • http://www.thewhitehatter.com John

    good for him to have some rest, see, market share still up.

    John’s last blog post..Busby SEO Test the hard way

  • http://www.webdesignbeach.com/ Web Design Beach

    Yes, there is nothing better then telling the real truth. That is the reason everyone will support him and wish good luck.

  • http://www.dataflurry.com DF Marketing SEO

    I know that running your own business takes a toll on your health, its stressful! Especially if you are sitting down and not doing anything but working at a computer.