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Why Apple needs an heir apparent

Don Reisinger thinks it's time for Apple to name an heir to Jobs' throne. But is it already too late?

Earlier this week, Apple started a firestorm by telling its shareholders that Steve Jobs' health is a private matter. I argued both here on The Digital Home and on CNBC's Closing Bell, that Steve Jobs' health does matter and with no heir apparent in sight, how can shareholders feel secure in their investment?

I won't rehash the argument here, but it does beg one question: where is that heir apparent and who is he or she?

Apple, unlike almost every other company in technology space is so tied to its CEO that whenever he appears on TV or says anything of substance, it becomes a major media event and has an impact on the company's stock price. Beyond that, I would argue that there hasn't been one CEO currently sitting atop a company that has had the kind of impact Steve Jobs has had.

Think of it this way: before he was ousted, Jobs was the most important element in Apple's strategy. Sure, he made mistakes and the company suffered, but his tenacity was what kept that company going.

After this ouster, Jobs watched on the sidelines as his company fell into a malaise. The company's executives presided over an extreme degradation in the Apple product and practically everyone was wondering how long it would last.

And then, Steve Jobs came back and, well, saved the day. He presided over the greatest gain in shareholder value the company had ever seen and restored his company to the position of one of the most feared, yet popular brands in the business. Along the way, he made countless investors multimillionaires.

But Jobs didn't do that with the help of "20,000 or 30,000 Apple employees" like my counterpart on CNBC said Wednesday. In reality, Jobs is the visionary behind every Apple product and the figurehead that keeps the company's stock price hovering well above $100 per share.

Not to mention, he's also the person the majority of Apple's shareholders have put their trust in and if something were to happen to him without an heir apparent in place, the company's share price would plummet.

Because of that, Apple needs to immediately establish an heir apparent and ensure that when Steve Jobs finally steps down, the person who will take his place has the requisite vision and notoriety expected from the CEO of Apple.

But Apple can't wait any longer. At the next Apple presentation or Stevenote, Jobs needs to take the stage and announce before the world his heir apparent. He doesn't necessarily need to say when he'll be leaving or even that he will, but he certainly needs to let this new person take the limelight.

From there, he needs to leave the stage and let this person take control of the Stevenote. Upon doing so, he solidifies this person's position as the new spiritual leader of the cult, but also allays shareholder fears over what the future may hold.

After that, Apple needs to make it abundantly clear that this person's vision is well in line with Jobs' and there's nothing to fear when he leaves. Apple should explain that Jobs hand-picked his successor and due to the indelible mark he has left on the company, the heir to his throne will stay the course going forward.

Of course, establishing a heir won't allay fears overnight and Apple will need to be active in ensuring that shareholder concerns are addressed before Jobs officially steps down. But if played correctly, Apple won't have anything to worry about: Steve Jobs will step aside (but stay in an advisory role) and the new leader will take over where Jobs left off.

Check out Don's Digital Home podcast, Twitter feed, and FriendFeed!