Another shakeup at Corel may leave CEO post vacant again

Corel Corp. CEO David Dobson is leaving his job to take a new position with an unidentified corporation in the US. He leaves behind a company that continues to struggle to define its identity in a metamorphosing software market.

Dobson, who came to Ottawa-based Corel after 19 years as an IBM executive, has resigned effective sometime in June. In a statement released by Corel today, Dobson did not say whether a current bid by San Francisco-based Vector Capital, the current owner of 60% of Corel's stock, to buy out other shareholders and take the company private again played into his decision to leave.

Typically, a high-ranking partner or chairman at Vector has served as Corel's Chairman; currently, Corel Chairman Alex Slusky is a Vector managing partner.

It was Vector which appointed Amish Mehta, a principal at the partnership as its CEO in 2003. Mehta would be key to Dobson's appointment as his own successor, as Mehta assumed Corel's chair. Now, Slusky holds that chair, and it's Dobson who's out.

Dobson himself took Corel public two years ago. Also during his three-year tenure at Corel, he oversaw the acquisition of several digital media products in an effort to shore up Corel's standing versus big competitors.

But some of the new products haven't garnered great sales yet, and Microsoft has continued to dominate the word processing market, where WordPerfect -- now owned by Corel for many years -- once was king.

Although some of Corel's other older products, such as CorelDraw, have kept up their sales momentum, Corel's stock prices haven't fared so well. Now, some minority shareholders are reportedly unhappy with Vector's takeover bid, which is for considerably less than the IPO price of two years ago.

Corel is no stranger to turmoil at its top posts. Just eight years ago, the software vendor's founder, Michael Cowpland, made his own very public exit, amid an insider trading scandal. Although Cowpland and Dobson both pursued noble goals -- and drew bottom line results -- unpopular with key shareholders, that's about where their similarities end.

Unlike the corporate-oriented Dobson, the colorful and flamboyant Cowpland had been an entrepreneur for his entire career, co-founding the telephone switch technology company Mitel just out of college before launching Corel.

Many applauded Cowpland's attempts to save WordPerfect by buying the word processing package from Novell, as well as Corel's forays into Linux with Cowpland at the helm.

But in August of 1997, just before Corel declared a $31.4 million quarterly loss, Cowpland sold $14.5 million of his personal stock in Corel, a move that scared other shareholders into selling, too. Corel's stock plummeted.

Cowpland was never officially accused of insider trading while he was still at Corel, though suspicions lurked.

Then in February of 2002, some 18 months after his departure from Corel, Cowpland was fined $1 million by a Canadian court after pleading guilty to a single charge of insider trading. He later settled for a $575,000 fine on MCJC holdings, of which Cowpland was the sole owner.

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