Corel hires Silicon Valley tech veteran as new CEO

Christa Quarles
Christa Quarles

Corel has turned to a California-based tech veteran to lead the Ottawa software firm as it looks to ramp up its strategy of growth through acquisitions.

Christa Quarles, who was previously chief executive of online restaurant-booking service OpenTable and also served as the head of Disney’s mobile gaming division, has been named Corel’s new CEO, the company announced this week. She replaces Patrick Nichols, who stepped down in April after more than five years in the role.

The executive shakeup comes a little more than a year after American private equity giant KKR acquired Corel from Vector Capital in a deal worth a reported US$1 billion. The new owners said then they planned to continue pushing Corel’s M&A agenda, which has seen the company best-known for its CorelDRAW graphic design products acquire several companies in the past decade in a bid to add to its customer base and expand into new verticals.

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In an interview with OBJ on Wednesday afternoon, Quarles said she initially wasn’t sure she was interested in joining a company that’s been content to remain in the background as other Ottawa software firms such as Shopify grabbed a much bigger share of the media ​– and market ​– spotlight over the past decade.

“But when I dove underneath the hood a bit, (I) found, wow, there’s this really interesting story about a business with incredible fundamentals that frankly just hasn’t been told,” she said.  

“The company really for the last 10 years has been under the radar and has quietly built out a really strong portfolio of software assets. This is a great starting point from which to grow an incredible software business.”

In a statement on Tuesday, KKR partner and Corel chairman John Park praised Quarles for her “impressive track record of driving strong growth at innovative technology companies.” Park told Fortune earlier this week he expects Corel to execute “bigger and bolder deals” under the new CEO’s watch.

Quarles, 46, said pursuing new M&A opportunities will be among her top priorities as she settles into the job.

“As we look into the future, we certainly will be looking at potential acquisitions,” she said. “At the end of the day, our job is to deliver to our fiduciary partners.”

Intriguing history

The veteran executive said she will remain based in California for now, adding her long-term plan is “to be where I need to be in order to build the business.” 

Quarles’ hiring is the latest chapter in one of Ottawa’s more intriguing tech stories.

Founded in 1985 by flamboyant entrepreneur Michael Cowpland, Corel was among the city’s leading software enterprises over the next two decades, with a name that adorned Ottawa’s NHL arena and its prominent Carling Avenue office building. 

The firm made headlines for buying WordPerfect in 1996 in an ill-fated bid to take on Microsoft. Over the years, Corel went public twice before being taken private again, both times in acquisitions by Vector Capital. 

Corel’s products, such as CorelDRAW and WinZip, fall largely into the creativity and business utilities space, but in recent years the firm has looked to expand its portfolio. Corel branched into product management with an acquisition in 2016 and hired software veteran Brad Jewett as chief financial officer the following year to lead its M&A strategy.

In late 2017, Corel acquired San Francisco-based ClearSlide, a software-as-a-service firm that develops sales support software. The following year, it acquired graphic design software maker Gravit Designer and Seattle-based Parallels, best-known for its software that allows Mac users to run Windows applications on their devices.

Noting that the software industry has been “incredibly resilient” during the COVID-19 crisis, Quarles said the shift toward a more digital workforce during the pandemic could open new doors for Corel.   

“I think the fact that we are playing in this space speaks incredibly well to the opportunity that sits in front of us,” she said. “It’s an exciting place to be. This is really an opportunity for us to put our stamp on it as we look to grow the business.”

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