A shareholder proposal to force tech giant Apple Inc. to publicly release a succession plan for ailing Chief Executive Steve Jobs has gotten the backing of Institutional Shareholder Services, a firm considered to be one of the most influential investor advisors.
The shareholder proposal was submitted in August by the Central Laborers' Pension Fund, which owns Apple shares. Jobs, who co-founded the company and is considered key to its enormous success, has had a series of health problems and underwent a liver transplant in 2009.
Last month the company said that Jobs was taking an indefinite medical leave. He handed most of his daily responsibilities to Apple Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook but retained the CEO title.
Institutional Shareholder Services, which has advised shareholders in several recent high-profile proxy fights — including at Barnes & Noble and Lions Gate Entertainment — said in a statement released Thursday that "all companies should have succession planning policies and succession plans in place, and boards should periodically review and update them."
The proposal will go up for a vote at Apple's annual meeting Feb. 23.
Apple asked shareholders to vote against the measure. In the company's investor proxy statement, released Jan. 7, the board said, "… a highly talented and experienced management team, not just the CEO, is critical to Apple's success."
It continued, "As part of this annual review, the board has a formal evaluation process in which it identifies and recommends development of internal candidates for succession based on criteria that reflect Apple's business strategy."
The shareholder proposal is also supported by the Laborers' International Union of North America.
In a statement, the group said, "We're concerned to hear the news about Steve Jobs' health and hope to see him return to full duties soon. However, this news demonstrates the need for Apple to do well by its shareholders, including our members' pension funds."
The union said it had successfully lobbied other companies to release succession plans. Those companies included Hewlett-Packard Co., Verizon Communications Inc. and American Express Co.
Laborers' International also said Apple had misconstrued the shareholder proposal.
"We do not expect them to provide specific names of future executives, but merely demonstrate they have a plan in place for naming one," the group said. "This proposal would not only benefit our members' retirement savings, but also would give reassurance to other Apple shareholders and help the company."