Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Jerry York's Ethics

The late, great, Jerry York has received some attention this past week.

When I worked at Apple, I had the opportunity to have one-on-one phone calls and exchange e-mails with Mr. York regarding non-Apple business. During our first phone call, he was adamant that I review Apple's ethics policy's to ensure that our conversations wouldn't jeopardize my job at Apple (it was a non-issue, since there was no conflict of interest, and he agreed).

Service Academy Networking
Jerry York graduated from West Point (USMA '60) and he would always make the time to take a business call from another Service Academy graduate. An Annapolis classmate of mine pointed me towards Mr. York after the two had spoken about a year earlier.

My first phone call with Mr. York was scheduled for half an hour, but it lasted about 45 minutes. I called him at his home in Michigan and, during our conversation, his wife came home. He very politely excused himself for a minute or two to talk to her and I was struck by how pleasant he seemed as I could hear the beginning of his conversation with his wife.

Off the Record
So, why would Mr. York go off the record with Doron Levin? Part of the reason may have simply been privacy. How much privacy does someone deserve? Every life threatening disease is a very personal issue. Some people don't want a soul to know about it while others broadcast it over the Internet. Mr. York may have realized, as soon as he mentioned Steve Jobs' undisclosed trip to Switzerland, that it wasn't for public consumption.

Additionally, I think that Mr. York felt conflicted (to put it lightly) about Steve Jobs' lack of transparency regarding his illness since he had considered resigning from Apple's board over the disclosure of this information. While Apple's shareholders may want to be aware of these facts, regardless of Steve Jobs' privacy concerns, it would certainly give a competitive advantage to Apple's competitors. I'm sure one could argue that the shareholders also want to know what future products Apple has in its pipeline since that, too, will affect Apple's stock price.

AAPL Competitive Advantage
While competitive advantage concerns may seem like a stretch, the ideal outcome, from Apple's point of view, would have been if no information regarding Steve Jobs' health leaked out. This is exactly what happened in 2004, when Steve Jobs was first diagnosed and treated for cancer which wasn't disclosed until immediately after his surgery; and, at the end of 2004, Apple's stock price took off on its current rocket ride through its all time high, previously set in 2000.

As an Apple shareholder, I, too, want to know just how sick Steve Jobs currently is. However, I have to pause, for a moment, and wonder: Had the news of Steve Jobs' cancer been revealed in early 2004, as soon as it was discovered, would the stock price had begun its climb to where it is now?

But, perhaps this type of thinking is too Machiavellian.

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