iPhone tracking: Steve Jobs speaks up


Apple's iPhones send back data about the locations of the users to the technology company, the Wall Street Journal reported on April 21, 2011. (BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS)

To explain this matter, Apple CEO Steve Jobs himself participated in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. This is in spite of the fact that the man is on medical leave, and that the company is portraying the matter as a quirk that’s simply in need of fixing. While the controversy over the location data is an interesting one—one congressman even apparently said Jobs “lied” about the matter—what’s just as intriguing to me is the leadership question of how much Jobs should be involved.

On the one hand, this is the founder and CEO of the company, even if he is on medical leave. Jobs’ speaking out on the matter shows that Apple is paying attention to it at its highest levels, and is taking the questions from consumers about the bug seriously. It also offers up an opportunity for Jobs to reassure investors that he’s still heavily involved in “major strategic decisions,” as was stated when he went out on leave in January.

But at the same time, this is a company about which investors have sounded alarm bells every time Jobs takes a leave of absence. One would think it might take this opportunity to prove that Apple can operate just fine without Jobs, and does not need to trot him out every time there’s major news about the company. While senior vice presidents Phil Schiller and Scott Forstall were also on the call and answered questions, Jobs did most of the talking, at least according to an edited transcript.

In this case, given that there are congressmen making accusations about Jobs and that the company could face regulatory pressures on the issue both here and abroad, it probably makes sense that Jobs was involved in the interview. If anything, it would likely be extremely difficult for him to stay away. But it raises an important question: Given his repeated medical issues, should the board be encouraging Jobs to step out of the spotlight more often? Or was Jobs right in taking on a public leadership role on this controversial issue?

More from On Leadership:

Revealing Apple’s succession plan?

Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.
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