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Symantec CEO John Thompson to retire

john thompsonSymantec CEO John Thompson is retiring next year, and COO Enrique Salem — a controversial figure among Symantec partners — will replace him.

The company made the announcement this afternoon, and the move will become official April 4, 2009. Thompson will remain as chairman of Symantec’s board of directors, and Salem will join the board at that time. Thompson becomes the second high-level Symantec executive to leave in as many months; worldwide channel vice president Julie Parrish left for NetApp in October.

Salem upset some Symantec partners this summer when he told Wall Street analysts about Symantec’s direct sales strategy for its largest customers, and Parrish spent significant time on damage control in the aftermath. At last month’s Partner Engage conference, Salem went out of his way to stress Symantec’s commitment to the channel.

Salem worked for Symantec and Norton throughout the 1990s. He was Brightmail CEO from 2002 through 2004, when Symantec acquired the company. In his latest stint at Symantec, he served as group president for the consumer business and leader of the worldwide sales and marketing team before becoming COO.

Thompson rose through the ranks during a 28-year career at IBM before becoming Symantec’s CEO in 1999. The company has prospered under his leadership, keeping its core focus on IT security while successfully expanding into the storage and management markets through the acquisitions of Veritas and Altiris, respectively. will have more on this story tomorrow, including reaction from Symantec partners.