Did you hear that Steve Jobs had a heart attack? You might have, if you keep up with current events via CNN's iReport.com, a site full of user-generated content (most of which, by the look of things, is made up of opinions about the 2008 U.S. presidential race). Despite the site's tagline -- "Unedited. Unfiltered. News." -- enough people took the report (which, I suppose I should say, is not true) seriously enough to briefly drive down Apple shares 10 percent. Shades of the incident earlier this year when a misdated news item on Google News almost obliterated United Airlines' stock price -- except while most people agree that the United incident was the result of mistakes and misunderstandings, some believe that Steve's fake heart attack might have been a deliberate fraud. The SEC is investigating.
But Apple really ought to contemplate the why of this -- not "Why would anyone want to drive down Apple's stock" or "Why were people so willing to believe an unsubstantiated rumor", but "Why is our stock price so closely tied to perceptions of our CEO's health?" The short answer is that Apple is closely identified with its co-founder, who brought the company back to relevance in the late '90s and has run it as a near personality cult ever since, like no other company of its size. As Don Reisinger cogently puts it, Apple needs to make its succession strategy clear if it wants to avoid these types of panics.