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Apple succession plan in focus as investors meet
|22 февраля 2011|
For years, Apple Inc. occasionally has been pressed to tell the world its plans for life after Steve Jobs. But officials have continually put off the matter. Now, as the iconic chief executive's health returns to the spotlight, a shareholder group is forcing the issue onto the agenda of Apple's annual meeting coming up Wednesday.
With management saying little about Jobs's condition, the issue will take on its highest profile to date as shareholders vote on requiring more transparency about succession plans for the post Jobs has held for the last 14 years since his return to the company that he co-founded back in 1976.
It's unknown whether Jobs, who turns 56 the next day, will show up for the meeting at Apple headquarters in Cupertino, Calif. A representative for Apple declined to comment.
Apple has faced similar questions in the past. Jobs skipped the annual meeting two years ago, when he was in the midst of a six-month leave of absence for a then-unspecified health condition. It was later learned that he underwent a liver transplant in that period.
Five years before that, Jobs had surgery to treat pancreatic cancer. He took off a month in mid-2004 to recuperate.
Last month, Jobs told Apple employees that he would be taking another leave of absence "so I can focus on my health" but he withheld specifics of his condition. As in times past, chief operating officer Tim Cook was handed the reins during Jobs's absence. Resolution On The Ballot
What's different today is a shareholder group has formally demanded that Apple provide more details about its CEO succession planning.
Sponsored by the Central Laborer's Pension Fund in Jacksonville, Ill., the shareholder resolution calls on Apple's board to adopt and disclose a written "succession planning policy." Under such a policy, the board would review its succession plan each year, maintain an emergency succession plan and "identify and develop internal candidates."
Apple opposes the measure, saying it has already abides by many of the proposed policies. The company further argues and that going public with its "confidential objectives and plans"--as demanded in the proxy's Proposal No. 5--isn't in shareholders' best interest.
That proposal "requires a report identifying the candidates being considered for CEO, as well as the criteria used to evaluate each candidate," Apple said in its printed response to the measure in its proxy statement."By publicly naming these potential successors, Proposal No. 5 invites competitors to recruit high-value executives away from Apple."
An Apple representative said the company would have no further comment on the proposal beyond what's in the proxy statement.
Jennifer O'Dell, spokeswoman for the Laborers' International Union of North America, who will represent the pension fund at the meeting, disputed Apple's characterization of the measure, saying it doesn't call on the company to publicly name potential candidates.
"What we're looking for is disclosure that they have a plan and regularly review it," O'Dell said in an interview."We want to see some transparency."
The union has pressed similar measures at other companies. It pushed a shareholder vote on Whole Foods Market Inc. last year, which went down to defeat, but the company agreed to make further disclosures on succession planning. The group is pressing a similar proposal at Intel Corp., and O'Dell says Hewlett-Packard has agreed to adopt a similar measure.
The California Public Employee Retirement System, or Calpers, is supporting the resolution. The fund holds a little over 2.2 million Apple shares--less than 1% of total shares outstanding.
"Succession planning is a systemic, persistent problem at a lot of companies," said Calpers spokesman Clark McKinley."Apple's done a phenomenal job, and we're happy to have them in the portfolio. We just think succession planning is important."
Other shareholders say the company has been open enough about succession planning.
"It would obviously be bad management not to have a succession plan, but Apple's been aware of this issue for some time," said Sean Krauss, chief investment officer of CitizensTrust, who has been an Apple shareholder since 2005."But I don't see the need to pinpoint Apple in this regard." Conflicting Signals
Unlike the leave he took in 2009, Jobs this time left the length of his absence open-ended.
The result has been massive amounts of speculation and rumors in the media as to his status. Apple's highly successful run over the last decade, thanks to popular products such as the iPod, iPhone and iPad, have cemented Jobs's legacy as an innovator and visionary, and also created the impression that the company may be harmed by his departure.
"The major risk in the Apple story is Steve Jobs's heath," wrote Needham analyst Charlie Wolf in a note to clients last month after Jobs announced his latest leave."Risks arising from the competitive landscape pale in comparison."
Apple shares dipped in the days following Jobs's most recent announcement, but since recovered--setting a new record high of $363.13 earlier this week.
The CEO's health status is unclear. A story in the Wall Street Journal last weekend quoted unnamed sources as saying Jobs has remained "closely involved" with the company while on leave, taking meetings at his home and by phone.
He was also quoted in the company's news release this past week announcing a new plan to charge for subscription content over the company's App Store. In addition, he was also among several top tech executives to meet with President Barack Obama during a visit to the area on Thursday.
Offsetting that was a story in the National Enquirer tabloid purportedly showing pictures of a frail-looking Jobs visiting the Stanford Cancer Center in Palo Alto on Feb. 8. The Enquirer story was widely circulated on tech blogs and other news organizations on Thursday.
O'Dell, the representative of the Laborers' International Union of North America, said her group hasn't held talks with Apple about its proposal. She added that the measure wasn't motivated because of Jobs' health struggles, but because recent events place the issue in a brighter light.
"I imagine it's a touchy issue for them right now," O'Dell said."But of all the years to have this discussion, this is the year. We wish Steve the best, and hope he lives forever, but we need to have a plan in place. Because we are long-term investors, we are going to be here for the long haul."
Kraus of CitizenTrust said it would be a "huge negative" if Jobs were to leave his post at Apple permanently, though the company would likely be fine in the short term.
"But over the long term, the company would be missing the person who brought that creative impetus and drive," Kraus said."I don't think the stock is anticipating a permanent removal of Jobs from Apple."
Источник: Total Telecom