“The older you get the more risk you should take. If I were to die tomorrow, I have no complaints. I’ve experienced more than anybody should have expected in a lifetime,” Micron CEO Steve Appleton to a reporter after escaping death in a 2004 plane crash.

He was not so lucky in 2012.

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I first met Steve Appleton in the middle of the night, trying to combat jet lag after a nearly 10-hour flight from San Francisco to Tokyo in 1994. The venue? The hotel bar? Nope, the fitness room at the Four Seasons Hotel in Tokyo. He couldn’t sleep either. Time to hit the weights.

Steve was the president of Micron Technology, the leading US producer of memory chips known as DRAMs (pronounced: dee-rams) or Dynamic Random Access Memory. I was the humble director of communications for the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA). We were trying to open up the Japan market to foreign chips.

Steve was five years younger than me, and was a classic overachiever. He was also a genuine good guy, who never talked down to anyone and treated me and everybody else with respect. He was a great success story, starting on the Micron factory floor in 1983 and rising to the rank of company chairman 14 years later. Steve was also known for taking risks.

Attending an SIA meeting 10 years later, I went down to the weight room and Steve was not there. I saw him later and joshed him about missing a workout. He made some reference about recovering from an “accident.” That particular accident was an experimental plane crash east of Boise that almost took his life. He suffered a punctured lung, head injuries, a ruptured disk and broken bones. You would think that would be the end of his stunt plane flying. Knowing Steve, that was not the case.

Steve also took his hand (or life in his hands) at skydiving, triathlons and off-road vehicle racing, such as the 1.047 Baja Challenge. Asked about he said in typical Appleton style:

“I don’t know what would be worse than being in the memory business for risk taking. If we were in some stable, monopolistic business, I’d probably get objections from my executive staff about doing this, but they’re all dying to go.”

It was Steve, who died.

Last Friday, Steve took off in a Lancair from the Boise Airport and soon after takeoff, he tried to turn back, the plane stalled, plunged to the ground, and he was dead. There is no doubt that Steve died taking a risk, something he always enjoyed. However, corporate governance experts are starting to wonder out loud whether chief executive officers and other C-level corporate execs should be restricted from yacht racing (e.g. Oracle head Larry Ellison), running with the bulls at Pamplona (US Airways CEO Doug Parker), balloon racing around the world (Virgin founder Richard Branson) and other dangerous activities.

Being an entrepreneur is about risk taking and the rewards (and failures) that come from taking chances. It is one thing to bet it all with shareholder and/or venture capital funding; it is something else to bet your own life thrill seeking.

Reportedly, there have been no securities lawsuits against corporations not reporting dare-devil CEO activities as “material” events under the provisions of the SEC’s Regulation FD or Fair Disclosure. One must wonder how long it will be before securities litigation firms start launching lawsuits for non-disclosure of CEO daredeveil activities as a new way of dipping into corporate deep pockets.

According to the Villanova School of Law, all four professional sports leagues (i.e. MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL) have “other activities” clauses written into player contracts. For example, MLB strictly prohibits players from engaging in boxing or wrestling. Players must receive written consent from teams before going skiing, car or motorcycle riding.

Of course, weird things do occur. Detroit Tigers pitcher Joel Zumaya missed an appearance in the 2006 American League Championship Series as a result of an injury incurred playing “Guitar Hero” on Sony’s PlayStation 2…go figure. Maybe he was practicing a Pete Townshend pin wheel swoop at his Gibson Les Paul or Fender Stratocaster?

Should Micron have grounded Steve Appleton after he endured his severe injuries in 2004 upon the crash of his stunt plane? In hindsight, the answer is obvious. However, even without knowing Steve’s ultimate fate, the 2004 accident should have prompted the board to act decisively to prevent these activities.

That doesn’t mean he couldn’t continue to be a risk taker in the production, sale and marketing of DRAMs against entrenched competition, mainly from Asia. That’s what the board was paying him to do, take calculated (business) risks. Dodging death once in the wake of a stunt plane crash, and then doing it again would not be regarded as “calculated” by most observers.

If the Micron board had acted then and there, Steve would still be with us…Maybe he could have played “Guitar Hero” for thrills instead.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/micron-says-ceo-steve-appleton-has-died-in-a-boise-plane-crash/2012/02/03/gIQA5LCKnQ_story.html

http://www.marketwatch.com/story/are-daredevil-ceos-worth-risk-micron-thought-so-2012-02-07

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/02/07/insurance-ceo-risk-idUSL2E8D6HDM20120207

http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/technology/story/2012-02-03/micron-ceo-plane-crash/52949164/1

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