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John Thompson, Symantec’s chief executive officer for the last seven years, announced his plans to retire early next year.

According to a press release issued by the company, Thompson will turn over the CEO post to Enrique Salem, the current chief operating officer, effective April 9, 2009. Thompson will retain his position as chairman of the board.

An IBM veteran who once ran IBM Global Services, Thompson took over Symantec in 2001 when it was the leading security software vendor and earning a little more than $1 billion annually. He vowed at the time to grow the company into an industry powerhouse.

During his tenure, Thompson has done just that. Today, the company boasts more than $5 billion in annual revenue. Thompson accomplished this through organic growth and dozens of acquisitions, including the merger with storage management software vendor Veritas in 2005.

“I am proud of our team’s accomplishments over the past 10 years as we’ve transformed the company from a consumer software publisher to the leader in Internet security, data protection and storage management,” Thompson said in a statement. “I’ve always believed planning for succession was a critical part of my role and, for the past two years, have been working with the board on a thoughtful succession plan. Through that process, Enrique emerged as the right person to lead the company and I am confident in his ability to continue to drive the success of our team.”

Salem is also a veteran of the IT and security industries, having served with Symantec in the early 1990s. He returned to Symantec through the company’s acquisition of Brightmail, where he served as CEO. He also held executive positions at Oblix and Ask Jeeves.

Symantec is one of the largest channel-centric vendors with a worldwide partner community of 60,000 resellers, service providers and ISVs.