If Steve Jobs is indeed able to defy gravity at times, as the New York Times suggested today, backdated stock options given to the larger-than-life Apple CEO may prove to be the tractor beam that brings him crashing back to earth.
Federal authorities are investigating grants made to Jobs that carried a false October 2001 date, according to the Wall Street Journal, which cited unnamed people familiar with the matter. Apple recently disclosed that records were improperly created at a board-of-directors meeting that month, when in fact no such meeting took place, according to the Journal.
The possibility of Jobs being brought down would be devastating to Apple's future. His wizardry in melding technological design, marketing brilliance and a flare for fashion has been so intertwined with Apple's success over the past decade that investors and analysts consider his continued involvement with Apple crucial. Like Louis XIV, whose contributions to 18th century France led historians to attribute the phrase "L'État, c'est moi" ("I am the State") to him, Jobs is almost inseparable from Apple.
Jobs's unveiling of the iPhone earlier this week at the Macworld Expo once again reinforced the impression that Apple's fortunes are inextricably linked to Jobs's continued involvement. With comparisons of the device to the industry-changing Macintosh and iPod, which Jobs introduced in 1984 and 2001 respectively, the iPhone is the latest example of Jobs's brilliance.
The false documentation was created by an attorney for Apple who was dismissed by the company last month, according to the Journal. That attorney contends she was following the directions of Nancy Heinen, Apple's then-general counsel. A lawyer representing Heinen, who left Apple in May, said his client "acted as instructed by Apple management and with the company's best interest being paramount," according to the Journal.
An internal investigation conducted by a task force appointed by Apple absolved Jobs and all current executives from any wrongdoing in connection with backdated options.
An Apple spokesman declined to comment to the Journal, other than to repeat that the company has turned over all documents connected to its investigation to authorities with the Securities and Exchange Commission and the US Attorney's office. ®