Apple’s Maestri Takes Top Finance Role Amid Cash Scrutiny

New CFO must cope with slowing growth and activist investors.

Apple Inc.’s departing chief financial officer Peter Oppenheimer presided over a sales boom that filled company coffers with a record cash pile. His successor, Luca Maestri, inherits a company stung by slowing growth and increasing scrutiny of how it handles that hoard.

The Italian-born executive is becoming Apple’s main money man and liaison to Wall Street in June, at a time when the world’s most valuable company is under pressure to reverse a stock slide, ward off activist investors and defend a cash strategy that critics say shields it from paying taxes.

“When you’re the CFO of the number one company in the world, you have a pretty big magnifying glass on you,” said Laurence Balter, an analyst at Oracle Investment Research, which advises shareholders.

In the largely staid and behind-the-scenes corporate finance world, the CFO job at Apple is among the world’s most high profile. Apart from dealing with shareholders, Maestri will manage Apple’s spending as it invests in research and development, and buys billions of dollars of equipment and components to manufacture its products. The Cupertino, California-based company, which has $159 billion in cash, also is in the midst of a buyback and dividend plan that will return $100 billion to shareholders.

Maestri will oversee Apple’s accounting and regulatory filings, handling of currencies from sales around the world, and debt after the iPhone maker sold $17 billion in bonds last year. He will supervise how Apple handles taxes, which drew the ire of U.S. senators last year for policies that helped the company avoid paying some fees. Maestri also takes the reins of the acquisitions team, which has stepped d its dealmaking.

Apple, which hired Maestri as corporate controller last year, declined to comment or make the 50-year-old executive available. In a March 4 statement announcing Maestri’s promotion to CFO, Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook said, “When we were recruiting for a corporate controller, we met Luca and knew he would become Peter’s successor.”

Defending Apple is set to be in Maestri’s future, as the company has become a target of activist investors such as Carl Icahn and David Einhorn. Both criticized the iPhone maker in the past 18 months for sitting on cash and pushed the company to increase its payouts to shareholders.


Selling Shares

Investors such as Fidelity Investments, BlackRock Inc., JP Morgan Chase & Co. and Janus Capital Management have also sold Apple shares in recent months, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Maestri, who has an affinity for strong coffee, good wine and Argentinian steak houses, brings international experience to Apple as the company increases sales in China and elsewhere. During his career, Maestri has lived in Italy, Poland, Ireland, Switzerland, Singapore, Thailand, Brazil and Germany.

“He’s very much a global citizen,” said Richard Simonson, executive vice president and CFO of Sabre Holdings Corp., who hired Maestri to work at Nokia Siemens Networks in 2008. Notably, “he knows how to sort through complex situations, and focus on what’s important,” Simonson said.

Maestri spent the bulk of his career at General Motors Co., culminating in a position as its head finance executive in Europe. His 20-year tenure there came to an end in 2008 just as the company was feeling the brunt of the financial crisis that would send it into bankruptcy in 2009.

At a financial review meeting in Zurich in early 2008, Maestri spoke up so passionately about the company’s dire fiscal position and the need to take bold steps to head off the crisis that a colleague, Chris Preuss, asked why the executive was so concerned. Maestri said GM’s situation was so dire that Preuss should think about getting a new job.

“He looked at me squarely and said ’This isn’t going to end well and you need to think about what you’re going to do because Detroit has its head in the ground,’” Preuss, who left GM in 2009 and today works for Ford Motor Co., said in an interview. “It was probably one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten.”

Maestri is a tough deal maker, said Fritz Henderson, former GM CEO who was Maestri’s boss at the automaker. They worked closely together when the company wound down its relationship with Fiat SpA in 2005, with GM paying $2 billion to end the partnership with the struggling Italian carmaker.


Yankees Fan

“He was a very tenacious negotiator but he was also a practical guy because he realized he needed to get things done,” Henderson said. “‘He was considered one of the best rising finance executives in the company.’’

Maestri also has years of U.S. experience. After graduating from Luiss University in Rome with a bachelor’s degree in economics, he got a master’s degree in management science at Boston University. He became a fan of the New York Yankees and is more likely to talk about his kids and sports than work at dinners with colleagues, said Gary Kabureck, a former colleague.

After departing GM in 2008 Maestri went to Nokia Siemens as the networking company restructured its business, and then joined Xerox Inc. as its finance chief in 2011. At Xerox, he worked with CEO Ursula Burns as she shifted the company away from strictly being a maker of photocopy machines to a services business.

‘‘Luca is a stellar finance executive whose contributions have brought great value to the transformation of Xerox into a services enterprise,” Burns said in a statement.

In his two years at the Norwalk, Connecticut-based company, Maestri helped integrate the 2009 acquisition of technology services company Affiliated Computer Services. While Xerox had no share repurchase plan in 2010, Maestri instituted a $700 million buyback in 2011 and another for $1.1 billion in 2012. He was adept at navigating the company’s culture, a skill that will serve him well at Apple, said Kabureck, who was Xerox’s chief accounting officer.

“He understood big organizations have their own culture and speed and way of doing things,” Kabureck said.

While Maestri has experience working at companies in crisis or transition, Oppenheimer has been at Apple since 1996 and became CFO in 2004, just as the company went on a roll with a slew of innovative products. The stock soared more than forty-fold during his tenure and he recently joined the board of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Oppenheimer will remain with Apple through the end of September to help with the transition.


Courting Investors

Maestri can build trust with Apple investors by giving more information on the company’s plans for the cash on its balance sheet, as well as more detailed financial guidance for the coming quarters, Balter said.

Some of Maestri’s responsibilities may be limited. Cook also takes a prominent role with investors, including having dinner with Icahn when the activist criticized Apple last year.

“The most important people at Apple are those that are working on the development of new products,” said Walter Piecyk, an analyst at BTIG LLC in New York, who has a buy rating on the stock.

Maestri is excited for the challenge, said Simonson, who spoke to him after Apple announced the promotion.

“He’s thrilled he proved to be the choice,” Simonson said.


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