CEO Health Should be Part of Ongoing Succession Planning Discussions

JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, who recently announced he had been diagnosed with throat cancer, is not the first corporate leader to disclose health issues. But without a manual to follow, CEOs and boards are often in a quandary about the best way to release information and manage the publicity around the situation.

July 10 2014 by Dale Buss


From Warren Buffett to Steve Jobs to former McDonald’s CEOs Jim Cantalupo and Charlie Bell, history is filled with precedent on this issue. Despite the trail of cases, however, there isn’t a cookie-cutter approach for how to handle these situations. The when, how and what to do next is often handled on an individual basis. Without a manual to follow, this can leave other CEOs and boards in a quandary about how to manage their own situation, should it arise.

Among the decisions that need to be made:

“Despite a wealth of precedent, there isn’t a cookie-cutter approach for how to handle these situations.”
  • In what situations will a C-suite executive’s personal illness be disclosed publicly?
  • How far along will it be disclosed?
  • If disclosed, what will they say about it, and how often will they provide updates?
  • How will they reassure shareholders and other constituents if they don’t have a great prognosis?
  • At what stage should the board begin reviewing potential succession candidates?

In Dimon’s case, disclosure of his situation without details has led to speculation about the future leadership of the banking firm, as well as about the extensiveness of his illness.

Dimon said he voluntarily disclosed his cancer, that it was caught early and is curable, and that he has no intention of stepping down or even being sidelined to deal with it. Investors seemed to rally quickly to support his assessment, and, if Dimon is right about his road to a cure, the entire episode will likely amount to hardly a speed bump for JPMorgan.

But such situations no doubt can and have unfolded differently for other CEOs and companies. Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs was much sicker from pancreatic cancer than the company or he let on before he died from it in 2011, no doubt because they wanted to protect the Apple brand and stock that was so tied in with Jobs’ own intellect and persona.