Apple Inc.’s board defended the company’s limited disclosures about the health of Chief Executive Steve Jobs, and said Mr. Jobs remains deeply involved in strategic matters.
But directors declined to give shareholders more details about the CEO’s health or discuss the company’s succession plans at the annual meeting, leaving some investors frustrated.
Although Mr. Jobs didn’t attend the meeting—his first absence in years—he was a main topic of discussion. The first questions from the audience were about Mr. Jobs’s health. Shareholders also sang “Happy Birthday” to the CEO, who turned 54 this week.
The focus on Mr. Jobs, who announced last month he was taking a half-year leave from Apple to deal with health problems, underscores continuing concern among investors over whether Apple will suffer during his absence.
Apple is facing a serious challenge in the economic downturn because it focuses on products, including its Macintosh computers, which carry higher average prices than others in the market.
The event at the company’s Cupertino, Calif., headquarters marked the first time shareholders had a chance to quiz board members directly since the company announced Mr. Jobs’s medical leave. Except for a brief statement at the time, the board has been silent on the matter.
“We believe we have met all disclosure obligations,” director Arthur Levinson said in response to an investor’s question. Mr. Levinson, chief executive of biotechnology company Genentech Inc., added that “nothing has changed” since Mr. Jobs said he would take a medical leave.
After the meeting, some Apple shareholders expressed frustration.
“I’m disappointed the board was not more forthcoming,” said Brandon Rees, a representative of the AFL-CIO Reserve Fund.
“I feel like I don’t know any more than I did” before the meeting, said Louis Malizia, assistant director of capital strategies for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
Concerns about the health of Mr. Jobs, a survivor of pancreatic cancer, resurfaced last year when he appeared gaunt at public events and then decided to skip an annual Macintosh trade show in January.
On Jan. 5, Mr. Jobs disclosed in a letter on Apple’s Web site that he was suffering from a “hormone imbalance” and said the remedy was “relatively simple and straightforward.” The same day, the board expressed support for Mr. Jobs. Nine days later, Mr. Jobs announced he was seeking a “more complex” treatment that would require him to leave the company until June.
Few CEOs are as important to their companies or so closely identified with them as Mr. Jobs is with Apple. The executive acts as both pitchman during high-profile events to launch new products and an important player in their development.
In Mr. Jobs’ absence, Apple has made other executives, including Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook and Senior Vice President Phil Schiller, the public faces of the company.
“There are still some concerns” about Mr. Jobs’s health, said Shaw Wu, an analyst at Kaufman Brothers. “Many people see it as a private matter, but on the other hand, he’s such an important part of the company.”
Another worry is the impact that the economy is having on sales of Apple’s premium-priced products. Apple’s unit share of U.S. retail sales of computers declined to 13.7% in January from 16.4% in the same month a year earlier, according to NPD Group Inc.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Mr. Jobs was re-elected to the board of directors, as were seven other current members.