WSJ: Apple director York almost resigned over Jobs health issues

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The recent passing of Apple director Jerome York has left a hole in the company’s board of directors, but it’s also revealed that the group is not quite the unified front that it’s often thought to be.

According to a report in The Wall Street Journal , York was unhappy with the way that Apple CEO Steve Jobs handled his health problems last year. In a 2009 interview with the Journal—comments from which weren’t published until this week—York said Jobs should have publicly announced his health issues when he backed out of appearing at Macworld Expo, less than a month prior to his taking a leave of absence.

He also said that he came close to resigning when given full details about Jobs’s health.

Mr. York said the concealment “disgusted” him, adding that the only reason he didn’t quit at the time was because he wanted to avoid the uproar that would have occurred once he disclosed his reason. “Frankly, I wish I had resigned then,” he said.

With York gone, Apple’s board has only five directors aside from Jobs: J. Crew Chairman and CEO Mickey Drexler, Intuit chairman Bill Campbell (a former Apple executive), Genentech Chairman Arthur Levinson, Avon Chairman and CEO Andrea Jung (recently appointed co-lead director, along with Levinson), and former vice president Al Gore. Google CEO Eric Schmidt was a member of the board until he stepped down in August 2009, over concerns about increased competition between the two companies.

Some critics have complained that Apple’s board doesn’t often oppose Jobs, citing examples such as Jobs’s health situation and the 2006 controversy over options backdating, in which an internal probe at Apple found some irregularities in stock options granted in the late ’90s. Jobs was cleared of any wrongdoing by both an independent investigation and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Apple may or may not choose to fill York’s seat on Apple’s board. The company’s by-laws require a minimum of five directors, and Apple didn’t replace Schmidt when he departed. However, the company will need a director to take York’s position on Apple’s three-person audit committee, which he headed. The rules also state that at least one member of that committee must have a background in finance or accounting; York had been that person, and neither of the other two members—Levinson or Campbell—would seem to fulfill the requirements.

If Apple does decide to appoint a new board member, the selection would be an important one: would it be a safe choice unlikely to rock the boat, or a more independent voice to counter Jobs’s strong-willed influence?

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