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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.

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