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Symantec profit beats Street, new chairman named

By Jim Finkle

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Symantec Corp reported quarterly earnings that beat expectations and said it is splitting the chief executive and chairman jobs ahead of a Wednesday meeting to unveil a strategy it hopes will end years of investor disappointment.

For the second quarter in a row, Symantec beat estimates under new CEO Steve Bennett, a former head of Intuit Inc and a longtime General Electric Co executive.

Symantec has scheduled a meeting for analysts and reporters after the markets close to unveil a new strategic direction. Bennett has said all options are on the table. A company spokesman declined to offer details.

Symantec, maker of Norton anti-virus software, reported a profit of 45 cents per share, excluding items, for its fiscal third quarter ended December 28. That topped the average analyst estimate of 38 cents, according to a poll by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

The company named independent director Dan Schulman to the position of non-executive chairman, replacing Bennett, who remains CEO and president.

Bennett said in a statement the appointment would boost oversight of the senior executive team and give him more time to focus on managing the business and executing the new plan.

"Steve Bennett has been a good influence," said FBR Capital Markets analyst Dan Ives. "You now have a couple of good quarters in a row and that continues optimism around the name."

Bennett replaced Enrique Salem as CEO in July and vowed to turn around Symantec, saying he would apply lessons he learned from the GE corporate playbook during the more than two decades he managed a variety of its businesses.

Ives said investors were pleased with the quarterly operating margin of 25.6 percent, significantly stronger than 22.5 percent expected by analysts.

Third-quarter revenue rose 4 percent from a year earlier to $1.79 billion, beating the average Wall Street view of $1.74 billion.

Schulman, on Symantec's board since March 2000, is president of the Enterprise Growth Group at American Express Co. He also worked as an executive at Nextel Corp and AT&T Inc.

Symantec shares rose 2.5 percent to $21.39 on the Nasdaq. The stock has surged 65 percent since July, when Bennett took over as CEO.

Investor disappointment with Symantec's performance traces back to 2004, when Salem's predecessor, John Thompson, bought storage software maker Veritas for $13.5 billion. The deal failed to generate the growth that Thompson had envisioned.

Symantec reported mixed results in the years that followed, repeatedly disappointing Wall Street.

Salem inherited that legacy when he took over as CEO in 2009 and the problems continued under his leadership. During his tenure, Symantec shares fell about 19 percent, while the Nasdaq Composite Index climbed about 77 percent.

Symantec's rivals include Intel Corp's McAfee division in security along with EMC Corp, Oracle Corp and CommVault Systems Inc in storage.

(Reporting by Jim Finkle; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

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