San Francisco: Apple Inc. is one of the world’s coolest companies. But there is one cool-company trend it has rejected: chatting with the world through blogs and dropping tidbits of information about its inner workings.
Few companies, indeed, are more secretive than Apple, or as punitive to those who dare violate the company’s rules on keeping tight control over information. Employees have been fired for leaking news to outsiders, and the company has been known to spread disinformation about product plans to its own workers.
“They make everyone super, super paranoid about security,” said Mark Hamblin, who worked on the touch-screen technology for the iPhone and left Apple last year. “I have never seen anything else like it at another company.”
But even by Apple’s standards, its handling of news about the health of its chief executive and co-founder, Steven P. Jobs, who recently had a liver transplant while on a leave of absence, is unparalleled.
Jobs received the liver transplant about two months ago, according to people briefed on the matter by current and former board members. Despite intense interest in Jobs’ condition among the news media and investors, Apple representatives have declined to address the matter.
Jobs was actually at work on Apple’s sprawling corporate campus on Monday, according to a person who saw him there. Company representatives would not say whether he had returned permanently.
Even senior officials at Apple fear crossing Jobs. One, who is normally more open, when asked for a deep-background briefing about Jobs’ health after the news of the transplant had already become public, replied: “Just can’t do it. Too sensitive.”
Secrecy at Apple is not just the prevailing communications strategy. For corporate governance experts, and perhaps federal regulators, the biggest question is whether Jobs’ approach has led to the breaking of laws that cover what companies are required to disclose to the public about the well-being of their chief executive.
On that key issue, the experts are divided. Some believe Apple did not need to disclose Jobs’ liver transplant because Jobs was on a leave of absence.
Other governance experts argue that the liver transplant now makes one of Apple’s assertions from January—that Jobs was suffering only from a hormonal imbalance—seem like a deliberate mistruth, unless Jobs’ health condition suddenly deteriorated. Of course, no one knows enough to say definitively.
©2009/THE NEW YORK TIMES