The pressure is on for Apple to think about life after Jobs
Ahead of its planned investor meeting on Feburary 23, Apple is once again having to deal with questions on a succession plan. The Cupertino company might have been able to avoid a lot of publicity surrounding an effort to force it to publicly disclose its plans, but Steve Jobs' indefinite leave of absence couldn't have come at a worse time.
Institutional Shareholder Services, a group that advises shareholders on how to vote on proxy ballot issues, has now said that it is advising a yes vote for the proposal. Under it, the company would be required to publicly disclose its plans for succession, and do so yearly.
Apple itself is urging shareholders to vote against it, claiming it already has a "comprehensive plan" in place, and letting the public know could give its competitors an "unfair advantage." Disclosure could harm its hiring practices, as companies may try to hire away potential successors listed, and unhappy executives not on the list may leave as a result, it argues.
The Central Laborers' Pension Fund is the group responsible for the proposal, and disclosed the ISS' endorsement in a press release on Thursday. "All companies should have succession planning policies and succession plans in place, and boards should periodically review and update them," the ISS said in a statement.
Succession plans are already in place in other Fortune 500 companies including American Express, Verizon, and HP, supporters note. To me, this is a no-brainer, and seems more an effort on Apple's part to maintain its secretive nature.
I'm not quite understanding why Apple believes these shareholders want to know who will replace Jobs. What I think people want to know is what the company's plans are should Jobs never come back -- investors are finicky folks.
Apple does owe it to shareholders to have this plan laid out in public. Keeping your products secret is one thing, keeping how you would plan to maintain the continuation of your business -- considering your CEO has pretty much been the company -- is another. Apple without Jobs is an unsettling thought, and investors want to know the company won't falter once he's gone.
Will this effort pass? Typically, shareholder proposals that aren't supported by the company will not. But Jobs is sick once again and a high-profile group supporting it may make the shareholder meeting interesting to watch.