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Symantec fires CEO Bennett

By Soham Chatterjee

(Reuters) - Antivirus and security software provider Symantec Corp fired Chief Executive Steve Bennett on Thursday, the second time it has sacked its top executive in less than two years, as the company struggles to revive growth amid eroding PC sales.

Shares of the company, known for its Norton antivirus software, fell 10 percent in extended trading.

Symantec said it appointed board member Michael Brown as interim president and CEO.

The decision to let go of Bennett was "the result of an ongoing deliberative process and not precipitated by any event or impropriety," the company said.

"It's a jaw-dropping move, especially because Bennett was key to the company's turnaround. I view this as a major step back ...," FBR Capital Markets analyst Daniel Ives said.

Forrester Research analyst Rick Holland said Symantec had been losing market share to nimbler network security software makers such as FireEye Inc, Palo Alto Networks Inc and Checkpoint Systems Inc.

Symantec said it was committed to its target of more than 5 percent organic growth and higher than 30 percent adjusted operating margin by fiscal 2017.

However, BMO Capital analyst Joel Fishbein said it would be difficult for Symantec to achieve 5 percent revenue growth without mergers and acquisitions or divestiture due to a continuing fall in its main PC security and storage businesses.

Symantec, whose security products usually come bundled with PCs, reported in January a 5 percent decline in revenue for the third quarter ended December 27.

Bennett had said the fall in revenue was partly due to changes in the structure of the company's sales team.

Symantec had been reorganizing its sales force to create specialists for each product group instead of having everyone sell everything.

Bennett, a former CEO of financial software maker Intuit Corp, was appointed by President Obama to the National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee in July.

"Over the last decade, there have been a lot of head scratching moves at Symantec from strategy to acquisitions and you can just add this to the list," Ives said.

Symantec unexpectedly ousted CEO Enrique Salem in 2012 even as a strategic review was under way to turn around the company. (http://r.reuters.com/jur77v)

A special committee of the board will immediately begin a search for a permanent CEO with the help of an executive search firm, the company said.

Symantec also reaffirmed its earnings and revenue forecast for current quarter ending March 2014.

The Mountain View, California-based company's shares closed at $20.90 on Thursday on the Nasdaq.

(Reporting by Soham Chatterjee in Bangalore; Editing by Kirti Pandey)

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