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TheStreet Open House

Apple's Streamlined Options Operation

An Apple representative did not comment to a request for a clarification about whether Jobs participated in board discussions about options grants during that 16-month time period. Apple's board members during that time period, including York, also did not respond immediately to calls or email messages seeking comment on Jobs' role during that period.

At the company's developer conference this week, Jobs himself declined to comment on his knowledge about the company's options problems.

Apple handed out just one bunch of options grants to top executives between April 2000 and August 2001. While Jobs did not receive any options in that round of grants, which the company gave out in January 2001, it was still sizable and significant.

In that round, the company gave out a split-adjusted 2 million options each to four executives: CFO Fred Anderson; Timothy Cook, then the company's executive vice president in charge of worldwide sales and operations; Jonathan Rubenstein, then the company's senior vice president in charge of hardware engineering; and Avadis Tevanian Jr., then Apple's senior vice president in charge of software engineering.

As The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week, that grant looks somewhat suspect in retrospect given how very favorably priced it was.

The strike price of the options handed out in the grant was equal to the market closing price of Apple's stock on Jan. 17 that year. After the market closed, Apple reported its first-quarter earnings that year. In reaction to that news, the company's stock shot up 11% the next day, giving the four executives a paper gain of $1.9 million each. Three months later, Apple's stock was up 21%.

Further, while the company was likely keeping with the regulations in place at the time, it apparently didn't report the grants until 11 months after the fact. The first mention of the grants in a search of the Securities and Exchange Commission filings is in the company's annual report filed in December 2001.

In addition to the options grants, at least one other executive compensation decision made in about the same time period stands out. At some point in fiscal 2001 -- Apple didn't specify the exact date in its filings -- the company transferred to Jobs' control of an airplane bought on his behalf in late 1999. The company assessed the plane's value at the time at $43.5 million, which Jobs reported as a bonus.

The company also gave Jobs another $40 million that year to pay taxes associated with the airplane.

Apple is only one of dozens of companies that are under investigation for their past options grants. In general, the probes are looking into alleged misdating of options grants, particularly backdating. With backdating, corporate insiders are accused of retroactively assigning to options a grant date on which their company's stock was known to have hit a short-term low.

Thus far, the probes have led to criminal indictments of former executives at Brocade (BRCD) and Comverse (CMVT). Options troubles at those and other companies have led to the ouster of executives and board members, and have prompted shareholder suits.

The myriad investigations have been thought to be a significant contributor to the summerlong sluggishness in tech stocks; even shares of Apple have recently slumped to give back about half of their post-earnings report bounce from late July. The stock closed Wednesday down $1.19, or 1.8%, to $63.59.

Apple has not elaborated on what kind of, or how many, "irregularities" it has found in its past options grants. However, Apple is the subject of several shareholder suits related to the matter, and the company said last week that what it has found thus far will force it to restate its earnings for fiscal years 2003 through 2005.

Another company whose options have drawn scrutiny of late is Pixar , the animation studio formerly headed by Jobs that Disney acquired earlier this year. The Journal reported on Wednesday that, similar to Apple, decisions about options at Pixar during part of the period in question were made repeatedly by the company's board, of which Jobs was a member, and not by an independent compensation committee.

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