Analysts hoping to ask Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) CEO Eric Schmidt during last week's conference call came up empty.

"Starting the New Year provides us with a great opportunity to tune and streamline our quarterly earnings communications," CFO Patrick Pichette announced at the start of the call.

"Eric will not be joining us going forward," he announced a few seconds later.


I don't have a beef against having CFOs lead quarterly conference calls. They are, after all, financial dissections. However, there comes a time when accountability for the past and vision for the future come into play during any informative call. Having a CEO on hand would be helpful.

As the empty CEO chair gently weeps
Sadly, Google isn't the only one to give its chieftain the heave-ho for its quarterly checkup.

The Wall Street Journal's "Heard on the Street" column also called out (Nasdaq: AMZN) CEO Jeff Bezos as going missing during the critical calls.

"Jeff is traveling today" was the official explanation voiced by investor-relations head Rob Eldridge at the time. His absence at the two subsequent calls has never been formally addressed.

It seemed as if another dot-com behemoth was about to gag its CEO last fall.

"Carol came down with something earlier this morning," Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO) CFO Timothy Morse explained during the company's third-quarter call. "It's nothing serious, but she has asked that I lead the call today on her behalf."

Carol Bartz showed up three months later. However, Schmidt's absence at Google now may lead some to wonder whether she'll be there during Yahoo!'s first-quarter call this afternoon.

Everyone wants to be an iCEO
I guess we can call this the Steve Jobs Effect. Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL) CEO hasn't been in on a quarterly conference call since 2008's fiscal fourth quarter. Health concerns kept him at bay, originally. However, COO Tim Cook has had no problem running the quarterly powwows even now that Jobs is seemingly back to his old form.

Apple hasn't missed a beat. Its stock is trading 170% higher than where it was during Jobs' last call on Oct. 21, 2008.

If this approach is good enough for Apple, surely it must be good enough for Google and, too. And now if it's good enough for them, are we about to find even more CEOs declining to give us their quarterly perspectives?

If investors don't raise a stink, it won't be long before conference calls are hosted by an intern, a member of the custodial team, and a Magic 8 Ball. If any significant questions arise, we'll only be a shake away from "Ask Again Later."

Hope floats
Maybe these CEOs are simply tired of hearing questions they couldn't answer. Bezos was routinely pressed for hard metrics on Kindle's guarded sales figures. However, sometimes not being there to answer a question only leads to even more speculation.

"Was there any tension between Sergey and [CEO Eric Schmidt] over China, and could that be tied at all to why Eric is not on the call today?" one analyst posed last Thursday.

He was referring to Google co-founder Sergey Brin, whose vocal stance against censoring in China escalated into the company's decision to retreat from the world's most populous nation.

There's nothing like conspiracy theories about power struggles at the top to bring back CEOs to their quarterly conferences. What are they afraid of? No CEO is too busy to be in on the call. Conference calls move stocks, right? You often see a stock move in one direction after a quarterly report, only to switch gears after a call paints a more bullish or bearish picture of the company's near-term prospects. So how can a CEO not be in on that wealth-altering event?

If I were an investor in, Google, or Apple -- and sadly, I'm not -- I wouldn't let them get away so easily. Let's hope they'll still show up to annual shareholder meetings so they can't duck the question about ducking the analyst queries.

On the other hand, why would Abercrombie & Fitch (NYSE: ANF) CEO Mike Jeffries show up to his next call, knowing full well that he'll be grilled for his personal use of the company's corporate jet? If a company has a rough quarter, or the questions are going to be too tough, maybe the CEO will just call in sick.

Anyway, I'd rather have a good CEO not show up to a call than a bad one with a badge for perfect attendance. Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT) Steve Ballmer hasn't shown up for a quarterly conference call in more than a year, and the company had no problem pulling off Windows 7 and returning to investor fancy.

However, we live in a time when any person can stream conference calls. If a CEO can't handle the hard and softball question or provide quarterly updates, why be a CEO at all?

Microsoft is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick. Apple and are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz still uses Google a lot in his daily life, regardless of who shows up on the call. He owns no shares in any of the companies in this story and is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.