Interview: Corel interim CEO

Returning battered software vendor Corel Corp. to profitability is the major challenge facing the new man in the Corel CEO hotseat, he said Wednesday.

Derek J. Burney became Corel’s interim CEO and president Tuesday following the resignation of the company’s founder Michael Cowpland. Cowpland was previously chairman, CEO and president of the financially troubled applications and Linux distribution company and has left to concentrate his energies on opportunities with startup companies.

Burney, formerly the company’s chief technology officer and executive vice-president of engineering, has been with Corel since 1993. IDG News Service spoke to him on day one of his new role at Corel about the continuing turnaround of the company’s financial fortunes, Corel’s Linux moves and the failed merger with U.S. development tools vendor Inprise/Borland Corp.

IDGNS: Did Cowpland resign or was he asked to leave?

Burney: Cowpland mentioned it to the board three months ago. It was his decision. In a large part, the timing of his announcement was to springboard off our Linux announcements as he moves to (help) Linux startups.

IDGNS: Some analysts have suggested that one way for Corel to achieve profitability is to spin off some of its businesses? What’s your take on that?

Burney: We’re working on our operating budget as we speak to get our costs in line with our expected revenue. It’s certainly worth considering (spin-offs). We won’t reject anything, but it’s way too premature to comment on.

We’re preparing now for our jam-packed product releases. There’s CorelDraw in November and WordPerfect a quarter after that. There’s a lot in the hopper. Our focus is on getting it to our customers.

IDGNS: Is there any chance of more layoffs in the pipeline at Corel?

Burney: We’ve pretty much turned the page on that (restructuring) element of our cost savings plan.

IDGNS: How does Sun Microsystems Inc. moving its rival applications suite to Linux, announced Tuesday, affect Corel?

Burney: The more players in Linux the better. IBM (Corp.), Dell (Computer Corp.), everyone is supporting Linux on the desktop. Corel was the first company to say it would do Linux for the desktop. It’s great for all of them to validate that, perhaps they’re ready to give Corel its due.

IDGNS: Some industry observers have suggested that Corel has concentrated on Linux to the detriment of its Windows applications business. Do you need to change the company’s focus somewhat?

Burney: There’s no question that one thing we will look at is the core areas of our business to make sure that they’re profitable in and of themselves. Our overall cost savings plan is that we’re not overextend in any area (of our business).

IDGNS: Is there still a chance of Corel merging with Inprise/Borland? Dale Fuller, Inprise/Borland’s interim president and CEO last month said that, strategywise, the deal was still a sound one.

Burney. The door is not permanently closed on anything, on any strategic investment. We continue talking to Inprise/Borland, we’re good partners with each other.

IDGNS: What do you think will be your biggest challenge or challenges in the interim CEO role?

Burney: My goal is to focus returning the company to profitability.

IDGNS: Any predictions of when Corel will become profitable?

Burney: I’m making no predictions. We’ll let our actions speak for themselves.

Corel, in Ottawa, can be reached at