dr-jgsm-05– Dana Radcliffe is a Day Family senior lecturer of business ethics at the Johnson School at Cornell University. The views expressed are his own. —

Are a CEO’s health problems a private matter? Or does he or she have an obligation to disclose them to investors and other stakeholders?

These are questions Apple and its iconic co-founder and chief executive Steve Jobs have had to face ever since he was diagnosed with a rare form of pancreatic cancer in 2003.  Happily, the disease proved to be treatable with surgery, which Jobs underwent in 2004.  But shareholders didn’t learn that Apple’s chief had been ill until he sent out an email to employees, announcing that he had had cancer but was now “cured.”

The issue of what, if anything, the company should disclose about its CEO’s health concerns resurfaced last summer, when Jobs spoke at Apple’s annual developers conference.  There he appeared, as the New York Times put it, “unusually thin and haggard.”  Reacting to the inevitable rumors that Jobs was ill again, the firm’s public relations department reported that he was suffering from “a common bug.”


However, according to the Times’ John Markoff, Jobs told some associates that he was experiencing “nutritional problems.”  Moreover, people close to Jobs told Markoff that in early 2008 he had a surgical procedure to treat a problem related to his weight loss.  Yet, in July, in a conference call after the release of Apple’s quarterly earnings statement, a senior officer deflected an analyst’s question about Jobs’s health, calling it “a private matter.”