On January 17, I wrote a piece saying that Apple should disclose what illness had caused Steve Jobs to take a medical leave for an unspecified time.
In my view, such disclosure of CEO health should be undertaken voluntarily as a matter of good corporate governance and sound investor relations. But, the SEC should also issue guidance under the securities law that, if certain conditions exist, such information should be disclosed as material (because, per the definition of materiality, it would affect an investor's decision to buy or sell securities).
This piece became part of a broader, energetic debate, which then raised a variety of issues about CEO health disclosures.
Let me discuss in summary form some of those issues -- issues, which either companies or the SEC, would have to address in more detail when establishing an investor policy or a regulation of broad applicability.
- Past Disclosures: The pieces and commentaries often exclusively focused on Jobs (I did) and did not remind readers that for decades some CEOs and companies have chosen to provide detailed disclosure. For example, Tenneco gave an extensive description of CEO Michael Walsh's brain cancer in 1993, and he stayed long enough to restructure the company and choose a successor before dying in 1994. In October 2010, Pacific Biosciences provided detailed disclosure about CEO Hugh Martin's diagnosis of multiple myeloma. In between, then vice chairman of GM, Harry Pearce, disclosed in 2001 that he had leukemia and said "there is an absolute requirement to make full [public] disclosure."