Gini Dietrich

Should Apple Have Disclosed Jobs's Liver Transplant?

By: Gini Dietrich | June 22, 2009 | 

When I learned Steve Jobs had a liver transplant two months ago, my first thought was, “Wow! If I were on his PR team, I’d quit.” Talk about no transparency or honesty.

So I decided to look into the reasons behind Apple not disclosing his health issues before jumping to conclusions.

Turns out I still feel the same way I did initially…and following is why.

* On July 31, 2004, Jobs had surgery on his pancreas, nine months after being diagnosed and keeping it a secret from everyone but a small group of confidants.

* At the time, Apple entertained no questions about Jobs’s health, citing his need for privacy.

* In early January of this year, Jobs said he had a hormone imbalance that was “relatively simple and straightforward” to treat.

* A week later, he announced the issue was more complex and said he was taking a leave of absence.

* Two days ago we learn that the complex matter required a liver transplant.

* Jobs is notoriously secretive and controlling when it comes to his relationship with the media.

* Apple has drawn criticism from some shareholders over what they have called “limited disclosure of Mr. Jobs’s health problems.”

* Jobs is a leader, an executive, and a celebrity, who is widely viewed as the company’s irreplaceable leader, personally responsible for everything from the creation of the iPod to the selection of the chef in the company cafeteria.

I disagree that Apple and its board think Jobs’s health is a private matter. He has made himself a public figure synonymous with the brand; he is the face of the company. Many believe his health is instrumental in the stock performance of the company. While the U.S. has strict medical privacy laws, Jobs’s role as the company’s visionary trumps his right to privacy.

Avoiding questions about his weight last year. Telling employees, stakeholders, and his board he had a hormone imbalance. Announcing, just a week later, he had to take leave because it’s more serious than they thought. Then disclosing a liver transplant just days before he returns to work. And this is all in the past 12 months.

This screams dishonesty and non-transparency – especially in a day and age that we all are focused on transparency and authenticity – while using his right to privacy as an excuse.

As a communication professional, I recommend they focus on honesty and transparency, especially if Jobs comes back as the chief executive. If he really wants privacy and refuses to be transparent about both his personal and professional lives, it’s time to provide a clear succession plan and put other spokespeople in front of the cameras.

Until then, I quit if I’m on his executive team or am at his table as his communication professional. This is dishonest communication, no matter which way you cut it.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!