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Apple CFO's departure signals changing of guard

Peter Oppenheimer won't be the last Jobs-era hyper-growth author to move on

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Apple will soon find itself having to replace the man who oversaw the company's finances through its most prosperous years.

Peter Oppenheimer has announced his intent to step down from the company by September, vacating his role as Chief Financial Officer to Luca Maestri and riding off into the sunset to take a board position at Goldman Sachs.

Aside from freeing up more time to earn his pilot's license, Oppenheimer is vacating a vital role at Apple, one which has helped the company through some of its most turbulent and successful times.

Entering the company in 1996, Oppenheimer's early time with Apple came when the company struggled to turn itself around under the watch of the newly-reinstated Steve Jobs. With many people firmly under the belief that Apple was just months away from bankruptcy, Oppenheimer's role with Apple grew.

In the following years, the company would blossom under Jobs and Oppenheimer would rise to become chief bean counter, assuming the CFO role in 2004. According to the company's own records, yearly revenue has grown twentyfold. Oppenheimer himself has been credited with helping to maximise those profits by crafting a clever (if not controversial) tax strategy for Apple.

Even with the massive boom in profits, the company hit financial roadblocks over the years. Oppenheimer was among the top Apple executives named in a suit alleging that the company wrongfully altered the dates on stock options awarded to Jobs and others.

Though Jobs and Oppenheimer were not found guilty of wrongdoing, Apple had to pay $14m to settle the matter and two other former executives, including Oppenheimer's predecessor Fred Anderson, had to agree to pay back earnings.

In 2011, rumors swirled around a possible ouster of Oppenheimer with reports that Jobs was looking to bring in a CFO who would help the company land new merger and acquisition deals. The reports were dismissed and, as Jobs' health declined, Oppenheimer took an increasingly visible role at Apple alongside CEO Tim Cook and marketing boss Phil Schiller.

More recently, Oppenheimer has been seen trying to help manage the expectations that have arisen for Apple as the company has seen revenues soar. With Cook and Schiller, he regularly presents the company's earnings in presentations to press, analysts and investors.

Oppenheimer's retirement could signal the beginning of a new chapter for Apple and its leadership.

While the company has given no indications of further moves looming, the mid and late-90s transition which brought Oppenheimer aboard also saw the arrival of Cook, Schiller and design mastermind Jon Ive (who himself has been intermittently been tied to departure rumours) and is now approaching the 20 year mark. Other executives, such as software and services boss Eddie Cue, have been with Apple even longer.

The loss of any of the above would prove difficult for Apple, and their eventual transition will mean that a new generation of executives, one which was not around for Apple's lean years and its transformation under Jobs, will take over the reins in Cupertino.

Going forward, the CFO role and all executive positions at Apple will likely only become more difficult for the people who fill them. The mobile and tablet markets become more competitive with every passing day, and with increased pressure from investors to continue its record financial runs, management will be asked to get more than ever out of the company amidst tougher market conditions.

While the departure of Oppenheimer will likely been seen as a footnote in the grand scheme of things, it may well also signal a larger shift on the way for one of the world's biggest brands. ®

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