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How the new CEO of 35-year-old Canadian software maker Corel plans revamp the company after a tumultuous decade to drive it through its 'next wave of growth'

  • 35-year-old enterprise software firm Corel recently hired a new CEO who is tasked with revamping the company's vision after a tumultuous period. 
  • Former OpenTable CEO and Nextdoor executive Christa Quarles told Business Insider that she sees a lot of potential for Corel, in part thanks to the shift towards remote work. 
  • Corel has a varied product portfolio that Quarles hopes to unify into a cohesive suite of tools for enterprise customers. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Enterprise software company Corel hopes to be on the cusp of a transformation, thanks to a new, recently-hired CEO.

Former OpenTable CEO and Nextdoor executive Christa Quarles joined the company in October and is charged with unifying the 35-year-old firm's disparate assets into a cohesive offering, after a tumultuous decade of ownership changes and acquisitions.

When the company was at its peak in the 1990s it was best known for its flagship graphics software CorelDraw, as well as a word processing tool called WordPerfect that ultimately failed to compete with Microsoft's Word. It now offers a suite of photo and video editing tools that rival Adobe's Creative Cloud products, file compression tool WinZip, and virtualization software Parallels, which it acquired in 2018. 

Meanwhile, it's fresh off an ownership change: private equity firm KKR bought Corel from Vector Capital for a reported $1 billion in 2019 with stated goal of providing the company with new capital to spur its growth. The key for Quarles will be to unify Corel's products into a robust product suite, according to IDC analyst Shannon Kalvar. 

"Corel has an opportunity to make some very differentiating moves for itself with its combination of products," Kalvar told Business Insider, adding that he thinks that Quarles "has the opportunity now to bring that kind of vision into the company" but "that's a challenging company transition." 

Quarles, for her part, is optimistic that Corel's potential is stronger than ever, thanks in part to the pandemic and "a market that is very much geared — post-COVID, in a remote work environment — to serve the knowledge worker," she told Business Insider.  

Here's how Corel has managed to survive its rocky evolution and why Quarles believes she's well-suited to lead it into its next phase of growth: 

How Corel has shifted focus through its history 

Corel was founded in 1985 by entrepreneur Michael Cowpland. Under his leadership, the company acquired WordPerfect, a word processing tool, and positioned itself as a competitor to Microsoft. Ultimately, Microsoft won the rivalry, though, and even ended up making an investment in Corel, according to a report from TechCrunch.  

Corel went public early in its life-cycle, but was battered by the first dot-com bust in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Cowpland was also accused of insider trading during that time and left the company, after which Vector Capital took it private in 2003. The company then went through yet another initial public offering in 2006, but was hit hard by the 2008 recession and was made private again in 2010. 

In the 1990s most people associated Corel with its visualization and graphics product, Corel Draw, suited for creatives. But in the time since, it has evolved into a company that has products for every kind of corporate worker, said Gérard Métrailler, a product exec who has been at Corel for almost two decades. 

Although companies like Adobe get more attention in the creativity and graphic design space, Metrailler said Corel has been just as innovative with its products over the years. For example, he said, it turned Corel Draw into a subscription offering around the same time Adobe did so with Creative Cloud in 2012. 

And its acquisition of Parallels expands Corel's market opportunity beyond productivity and creative tools. Parallels' software helps users manage computer networks when devices are running across multiple operating systems and locations. 

Corel currently has 90 million users across all of its products. Its Parallels product competes with VMWare and Citrix, according to IDC's Kalvar, while its productivity and creative tools rival smaller vendors like Zoho rather than Microsoft. 

The opportunity ahead for Corel's new CEO

Quarles said she was excited by the opportunity to take the helm at Corel and believes her background in both consumer and enterprise companies will be critical as she shape's the firm's go-to-market strategy. She was previously CEO of restaurant booking app OpenTable from 2015 to 2018 and before that held executive positions at Nextdoor and The Walt Disney Company.

Her game-plan for growing the business relies on enhancing Corel's products so that they become must-haves for customers. 

"[The] number one strategy for me is building highly retentive products that retain their users exceptionally well," she told Business Insider. "And building that recurring, stable base of revenue that we can grow into the future on." 

Right now, most of Corel's customers are small-to-medium businesses, but IDC's Kalvar believes that the "opportunity is there" for Corel to target large enterprise users, particularly with its Parallels software as the shift to remote work makes virtualization software increasingly valuable.

Corel hasn't done a good enough job so far communicating its vision and its market opportunity to the public, Quarles said, but she aims to change that. Her goal is to provide a solution to customers that "really matters in terms of how they do their business," she said. "That's where this company can grow from."

Like Kalvar, she also points out that many of Corel's products, like Parallels and its productivity tools have even greater use during the pandemic. 

"The biggest competitor today is really being in a position to take those assets," she said, "And reconfigure them for that next wave of growth for us."

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