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Wall Street Questions Google CEO Larry Page's Health

Larry Page
Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images

The Internet giant says he is missing several big events because he lost his voice, but critics urge the company to disclose more details.

Google CEO Larry Page last week missed the online giant's annual shareholder meeting, with the company saying he had "lost his voice." But some observers have expressed concern about his health after the firm said he would also miss a Google developers' conference this week and its next earnings conference call next month.

Google won't say more about the matter, but some corporate governance experts say the company should disclose further details given the experience of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs who died last year after repeated instances of limited updates about his health, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The paper quoted an email to employees late last week, in which Page, 39, wrote that "there is nothing seriously wrong with me" and that he would "continue to run the company."

At last week's shareholder meeting at Google's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., executive chairman Eric Schmidt said Page had "lost his voice" and "can't do any public speaking engagements for the time being." He mentioned this week's annual Google conference for software developers and the second-quarter earnings conference call expected in mid-July.

Schmidt also wished Page a "quick recovery," but didn't provide further details about the reason for his voice loss.

"We have no specific reason to think there is anything more to Larry's condition, but we find it odd that the company would already rule him out of the second-quarter [earnings], call which is likely still a few weeks away," the Journal quoted JP Morgan analyst Doug Anmuth as saying. "We think this could raise some questions among investors."

Susquehanna Financial Group analyst Herman Leung told the paper that he has started to get investor calls asking if they should be worried. "Yeah, probably a little bit," he said. "Hopefully, Google will give us an update."

And Rick Devine, head of Devine Capital Partners, told the Journal that Page's expected extended absence seems "highly unusual." He added: "It's hard to imagine a CEO missing that much stuff and not have a serious problem."

As the CEO of a public company, Page is "not entitled to his privacy,'' said Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a senior associate dean at Yale School of Management, who is urging further disclosures. "We need to know if it [his voice] is imperiled."

The Journal cited a voice care specialist who suggested Page could have a wide range of problems, such as acute laryngitis, muscle tension dysphonia, which is caused by tight muscles around the voice box, or benign lesions on the vocal cord.

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com

Twitter: @georgszalai