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UPDATE 3-Apple's CFO to hand baton to Maestri in September

SAN FRANCISCO, March 4 (Reuters) - Apple Inc's Chief Financial Officer Peter Oppenheimer will retire and hand the reins to Luca Maestri in September, transferring financial stewardship of the world's largest technology company to the Italian-born corporate controller.

Oppenheimer, 51, had been CFO since 2004 and was the architect behind a $100 billion capital return program established a year ago in response to demands the company do more with its ballooning cash hoard. Maestri is not expected to pursue radical changes to the iPhone maker's strategy on that front.

Apple's shares were up 0.6 percent at $530.87.

Maestri, a 50-year-old born in Rome, takes over as the smartphone maker grapples with slowing revenue growth, increasingly saturated or commoditized markets and intensifying competition from the likes of Samsung Electronics.

The company is also under increasing pressure to come up with the next big thing. Some investors are betting that Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook will finally unveil a revolutionary new product this year, breaking a dry spell of several years during which it stuck mainly to iterations of the iPhone and iPad.

"Maestri will be assuming this role at an interesting time - when Apple is in the midst of launching more services and likely needs to convince investors that it has more consistent revenue streams in a commoditizing smart phone market," Barclays analyst Ben Reitzes wrote on Tuesday.

"We know Maestri quite well and believe he will support consistent plans for capital return and thoughtful, achievable guidance."

The executive joined Apple from Xerox Corp in 2013. He spent 20 years at General Motors where he worked as CFO of several units including GM Europe. Before joining Xerox, he was CFO of network equipment maker Nokia Siemens Networks.

"While we view Mr Oppenheimer's retirement as a loss to the company, we expect the transition to be fairly seamless," Wells Fargo Securities analyst Maynard Um said in a research note.

TAKING UP THE BATON

Oppenheimer, who joined Apple in 1996, will start handing over in June to Maestri. Named to the board of Goldman Sachs Group Inc on Monday, he said in Tuesday's statement he would use some of his free time to complete his pilot's license.

"When we were recruiting for a corporate controller, we met Luca and knew he would become Peter's successor," Cook said.

Cook noted that Apple's revenue had risen to $171 billion from $8 billion during Oppenheimer's tenure as CFO.

The company's growing cash pile has been a source of discontent amongst investors, given much of it is parked overseas without significant returns and the company has proven conservative in pursuing acquisitions even as rivals Google and Facebook spend tens of billions of dollars snapping up companies.

Apple had about $160 billion cash at the end of 2013.

The company has said it will return $100 billion to shareholders by the end of 2015 through dividends and share repurchases.

The company said in February that it had bought more than $40 billion of its shares over the past 12 months, helping to satisfy activist Carl Icahn and other investors, at least for now.

"Oppenheimer had a very successful run but joined Apple at a time when the personal technology market was focused exclusively on personal computers," said University of Notre Dame visiting professor of marketing Brett T. Robinson, author of "Appletopia."

"Apple's hiring of Luca Maestri, who has broad international experience, is consonant with Apple's strategy to expand their global footprint."