INDIANAPOLIS — Conseco Inc. late Tuesday reported first-quarter earnings of $54 million, or 16 cents per share, beating analysts’ estimates by 2 cents.

In a memo to investors, Gary Wendt, who took over as chief executive of the consumer finance company last June, sought to differentiate the company’s performance from that of recent years by referring to the “new” and the “old” Conseco.

“We are building shareholder value by running the businesses, not via acquisition, which was the ‘old’ Conseco,” he wrote. “We are focused on building management systems and processes to engineer earnings growth through active management of the businesses.”

Mr. Wendt is attempting a turnaround at Conseco, which lost more than $1 billion in 2000 but expects to earn about 92 cents a share this year.

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