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Over the past 10 years, Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) has returned more than 580% for shareholders. Its founder and CEO, Steve Jobs, was just named CEO of the decade by Fortune. The company went from irrelevant to unstoppable under Jobs' return to leadership.
Upon his return, Jobs didn't just inject new life into the struggling Macintosh line of computers. He also led the company in launching redefining products such as the iPod and iPhone, into fields that were highly fragmented and full of fierce competition from the likes of SanDisk (Nasdaq: SNDK ) , Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) , and Nokia (NYSE: NOK ) . Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page called Jobs their "hero."
But Jobs also has shown signs of shareholder-unfriendly behavior over the years, including being mixed up in an options backdating scandal (for which he was never formally charged), hoarding cash, and disclosing the bare minimum about his health while battling life-threatening illnesses.
Put another way: Would you want your son to play hoops for Bob Knight?
In recent weeks, there's been a Steve Jobs debate on Fool.com and our community discussion boards.
Fool analyst Rich Greifner claimed that "Steve Jobs Couldn't Care Less About You":
Over the years, Steve Jobs has repeatedly demonstrated indifference for his shareholders' well-being. While his poor stewardship hasn't hurt shareholders too badly yet, I believe it's only a matter of time.
On the flip side, Fool community member Jeff Milton said, "who cares?"
My bottom line is this: Results matter. Ignoring past results to focus on perceived past shortcomings is like rewriting a history book. Apple under Steve Jobs has continued to reward shareholders with market-crushing returns by focusing on the long term, not what Wall Street wants next quarter.
As I see it, the debate comes down to this: Can a shareholder-unfriendly manager be "bad" if he makes shareholders buckets of money? And on the flip side, can a shareholder-friendly manager really be "good" if his or her stock is flat or negative?
In truth, not every CEO possesses the combination of "good steward" and "great long-term stock price results." Dan Amos from Aflac (NYSE: AFL ) and Jim Sinegal from Costco (Nasdaq: COST ) are two of the rare examples.
I'm interested to hear your opinion. Are stock returns the panacea for shareholder concerns about leadership? Do they wipe away all the blemishes, or simply mask future problems?
What say you, Fools? Let me hear your thoughts in the comments section below.