Lessons learned from Steve Jobs' illness and public disclosure

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When the head of a New York-based investment firm was hospitalized for a heart condition, the executive took a very different approach from Apple co-founder Steve Jobs' own health-related disclosure.

Lazard CEO Bruce Wasserstein felt little push-back from investors after he recently issued a short but poignant message, stating that he was hospitalized for an irregular heartbeat. "His condition is serious," the note said, "but he is stable and recovering."

It was a very different approach from the one taken at Apple early this year. In January, after months of rumors with no public response, Jobs ceded control of day-to-day operations. He returned to work in June after receiving a liver transplant.

In a new report from The Wall Street Journal, Michael Corkery examined the effect differing levels of disclosure had on the stock prices of both companies. His conclusion: "Openness can be healthy."

"The computer maker’s shares see-sawed when investors worried that the company was being less than forthcoming about the health of CEO Steve Jobs," the report said.

Apple’s secrecy surrounding the health of Jobs has had a major effect on Apple's stock price, while the open stance of Lazard resulted in a 1 percent drop. Throughout Jobs' career, Apple has been notoriously tight-lipped about the health of its chief and has always rebutted any questions about his health as being a "private matter." The report suggested that Wasserstein's more forthcoming approach was to his company's benefit.

"A CEO doesn’t want his company's stock price to go up when he gets sick because it means investors don’t consider him a critical asset," Corkery wrote. "But he doesn’t want it to tank either. By being straightforward about Wasserstein’s illness, Lazard is enabling investors to decide for themselves about the possibility of a leadership change at the storied firm."

Jobs began to buck his secrecy trend at the beginning of this year with his open letter to Apple fans about his apparent weight loss and failure to show at the Macworld keynote. When he returned to the stage at Apple’s annual music event in September, Jobs acknowledged his health.

"So, I’m vertical, I’m back at Apple and loving every minute of it," he said, "and working with some talented teams to come up with some great products for the future."


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