The following commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet's guest contributor program, which is separate from the company's news coverage.
By Ralph Ward
NEW YORK (
) -- What happens when good corporate governance clashes with good business?
is about to find this out the hard way with Steve Jobs resigning as the company's visionary CEO -- but staying on as chairman of the board.
Most business media attention over the past day has focused on whether Apple can maintain its breathtaking mojo as a technology (and even cultural) leader without Jobs as chief executive. (Although, after five years of serious health issues and a stock backdating scandal, an unasked question is
why Jobs is leaving
A trickier issue over the near term, however, lurks in Apple's corporate boardroom. Jobs resigned only as CEO, but intends to stay on as chairman of the board. This is not uncommon in corporate America. The current CEO/chair retires as chief, but remains as board chair for a year or two while the new CEO learns the ropes. The chair then retires fully from the board to attend to his gardening, while the CEO gains the chairmanship, and the torch is passed.
Steve Jobs may take this approach at Apple. But he may not, hanging on for the long term as a company legend at the head of the board table, and sucking all of management's oxygen from the room.
The company's current board structure is not encouraging when it comes to board leadership beyond the guy in the black shirt. Directors Arthur Levinson and Andrea Jung currently serve as "co-lead directors," a new board role that empowers the board's independent members. Indeed, these two board members, who respectively lead
, are no lightweights. But splitting board independent leadership into "co-lead" directors dilutes an already largely informal position, giving the formal chair added muscle.
Should Steve Jobs announce a firm schedule for also retiring as board chair? Good governance practice today would encourage such a move, along with naming a single, fully-independent board chairman. Tim Cook and the rest of the Apple team could then shape their own management vision for the company's future, while the board strengthens its independent fiduciary role.
But is Apple a special case? Was the stock price hit that Apple took on Jobs' announcement a true market measure of his personal value in driving the firm to the top in U.S. market cap? Corporate governance best practice says Steve Jobs should not linger in the boardroom, where we visualize him like Tom Hanks' character in the movie "Big," dismissing management's bright new ideas with a withering "I don't get it." But maybe the markets are telling us that's just where they want Steve Jobs to be.
Ralph Ward is publisher the Boardroom INSIDER newsletter and author of the new book "Boardroom Q&A."
This commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet guest contributor program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TheStreet or its management.