Why was the CEO of one of the world's most important companies airlifted by the Ecuadorean Navy? The (official) reason seems to be kidney stones. While not a significant medical event, any time that a high-profile CEO experiences a medical event investors should take note.
A quick note on kidney stones…
Kidney stones are a solid "stone" formed in the kidneys made from minerals found in urine. And they are common. Roughly 5% of Americans will experience a kidney stone this year and 65-80% of sufferers will be men. For men, the first occurrence of kidney stones typically comes between 30 and 40 years old. Bezos is 49. Hardly an out-of-the-ordinary medical event for a man of his age.
What if the real issue isn't just kidney stones?
Ok, kidney stones aren't usually a big deal and are fairly common. So should we be concerned about Amazon's CEO seeking emergency medical attention for such an ailment? Probably not. But maybe.
In the age of technology companies that are founded and run by visionary executives in a very hands-on manner, the health of these executives should be a major concern for investors.
Assuming the real issue here is merely - and truthfully - kidney stones, this event should serve as a reminder that Amazon investors are vulnerable to changes in Bezos' health and should inquire about succession plans within the highest levels of the company.
And what if the real issue is much more significant than mere kidney stones?
A timeline of Steve Jobs' health issues
- October 2003: Jobs diagnosed with pancreatic cancer
- July 2004: After trying herbal, psychic, homeopathic and other remedies, Jobs decides to have cancerous tumor surgically removed from pancreas.
- August 1 2004: Jobs announces illness and subsequent surgery to Apple and Pixar (NYSE:DIS) employees. Specifically highlights that his pancreatic cancer is a rare form that IS treatable. Announced he will take the month of August off and return in September.
- August 2006: After appearing surprisingly thin and gaunt during keynote presentation at Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), Apple spokesperson states "Steve's health is robust."
- June 2008: After similar concerns at 2008 WWDC, Apple announces that Jobs is suffering from a "common bug" and taking antibiotics.
- December 16, 2008: Apple announces that Marketing VP Phil Schiller (NOT Steve Jobs) will deliver keynote address at upcoming WWDC.
- January 14, 2009: Jobs announces in internal Apple memo that his medical issues were "more complicated than he originally thought" and begins a 6-month leave of absence.
- April 2009: Jobs undergoes liver transplant surgery.
- January 17, 2011: Jobs granted medical leave-of-absence by Apple, again naming Tim Cook interim-CEO
- August 24, 2011: Jobs formally resigns as Apple CEO, naming Tim Cook CEO.
- October 5, 2011: Jobs passes away at home in Palo Alto, CA.
What does Steve Jobs' health have to do with Jeff Bezos?
I bring up the case of Steve Jobs' health and medical disclosures (or, lack thereof) because it is clearly a case of deception. Regardless of his being the CEO of a major publicly traded company at the time of his original diagnosis, Jobs hid this diagnosis for around 9 months.
Despite rampant rumors of an Apple television and wearable technology - such as an iWatch - since Jobs' death, the company hasn't released any new products, further fueling speculation that a post-Jobs Apple lacks the visionary leadership to do so.
And Larry Page?
You may remember Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) co-founder and CEO Larry Page's "mystery illness."
Page failed to appear at Google's June 2012 shareholder meeting. At the meeting, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt announced that Page had "lost his voice" and wouldn't be a part of Google's upcoming conference for software developers or the company's upcoming earnings announcement. In an e-mail to Google employees, Page stated that "there is nothing seriously wrong with me."
Almost a year later, Page finally went public with his medical issues. He announced that he has struggled with vocal cord issues over the past 14 years, most recently aggravated by a cold that resulted in his absence from the 2012 shareholder meeting. Along with his paralyzed vocal chords, Page also announced that he suffers chronically from Hashimoto's thyroiditis and said his doctors are unsure if his vocal cord issues are directly related to his thyroid condition.
The point is that, like it or not, many high-profile companies are run by a visionary and high-profile founder/CEO. Sure, Apple is much bigger than one guy named Steve Jobs. But can anyone argue that a post-Jobs Apple has the same magic it had when Steve Jobs was still at the helm?
What if Elon Musk disclosed a major illness? Would Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) stock not suffer as a result? Despite Warren Buffett's well publicized efforts to assure investors of his succession plan leaving Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK.A) investors in good hands, I have no doubt that a major change in his health would result in a reaction in shares of the company's stock.
If an Apple investor had sold their shares on the day Steve Jobs' original cancer diagnosis was announced they would have missed out on over 3,000% of upside. I'm certainly not saying that investors should sell their holdings in a company at the first sign of a CEO's illness.
But when it comes to companies like Amazon, Google, Tesla and Berkshire Hathaway, where a key individual's health is of such importance to the stability of the company, pay close attention...
...and don't expect honesty.