A change this week on Fortune’s Leadership Next podcast: Alan Murray is joined by a new cohost, Fortune editor-at-large Michal Lev-Ram. After the duo talk about Lev-Ram’s new role with the podcast, they welcome Christa Quarles, CEO of software company Alludo (formerly Corel). Their conversation ranges from the importance of calling B.S. on tired old excuses, to rebranding a company, to leadership by haiku.
Listen to the episode or read the full transcript below.
Alan Murray: Leadership Next is powered by the folks at Deloitte, who, like me, are exploring the changing rules of business leadership and how CEOs are navigating this change.
Welcome to Leadership Next, a podcast about the changing rules of business leadership. I’m Alan Murray, and this is a very big day for me. I’ve got a brand new co-host.
Michal Lev-Ram: I’m Michal Lev-Ram. I am thrilled to be here, Alan.
Murray: I’m so happy to have you here, Michal. You’ve worn many hats during your years of Fortune. I think you’ve probably even been here a little bit longer than I have. Isn’t that right?
Lev-Ram: Yeah, I believe that’s right. I have been at Fortune now through two economic downturns, a pandemic, a revolution in print and media overall, and my current hat, or hats that I wear at Fortune, is an editor-at-large. I tend to write about the tech industry, as you would imagine, being out here in the Bay Area. A lot of CEO profiles, which is great, and I also work across our live events, which has been very exciting. So I’m thrilled to add this to my portfolio at Fortune and join the team here.
Murray: I know our listeners are all going to miss the amazing Ellen McGirt, as will I. And Michal and I have vowed to bring her back from time to time when the issues are right, but Michal, what I really love about this pairing is, we’re on opposite coasts, and being on opposite coasts sometimes these days is like being on Mars and Venus. So I appreciate what you’re bringing to the conversation.
Lev-Ram: Yeah, Alan, this is one of the biggest reasons we became journalists, right? Is to talk to incredible thinkers, to people who are in the news, and definitely hope that we can add some perspectives, and more perspectives from the tech industry—you know, happens to be in the news quite a bit these days.
Murray: And we’re going to do that today with our conversation with Christa Quarles, who is CEO of the software company, Alludo, which used to be called Corel. You may not have heard of Alludo or Corel. Before that, she was CEO of OpenTable. And she did work in interactive games at Disney. So she has quite a history and is also somebody you know pretty well, right?
Lev-Ram: Yeah. So Christa is a rare breed. She is a CEO who always seems to speak her mind. And my first interaction with her, she really, really made an imprint on my brain. It was at our Brainstorm Tech conference a few years back. She just called out B.S. literally as she saw it.
Murray: She said bullshit…
Lev-Ram: Yes, she said, bullshit, I’ll go ahead and say it too. But yeah, she’s a big thinker, and really influential, a very influential woman in the tech industry. And so I was very excited to talk to her.
Murray: Yeah, and what’s great about Christa is that she is a CEO who really walks her talk. After calling bullshit on that conversation at Brainstorm Tech, she’s also done what she needed to do at the company. She said, when she was CEO of OpenTable, she set a goal of 50/50 gender parity and hiring, which you know, better than I do, is very rare in the tech space. And she got there, and we’re going to talk to talk to her about how she did it.
Lev-Ram: Yeah, absolutely. And we’re also talking to her about the process of rebranding a company, like you said, from Corel to Alludo, her thoughts on the state of remote work—I know you have a lot of thoughts on that as well, Alan—and her use of haiku, the 17-syllable Japanese poetic form, in management.
Murray: And I don’t want to spoil the podcast, Michal, but you and I did both read our original haikus written for the occasion.
Lev-Ram: Yeah, and I have to say, yours was a little bit more poetic than mine. Well, I don’t want to keep people waiting any longer for the beautiful haikus we wrote, Alan. Here is our interview with Christa Quarles of Alludo.
Welcome to Leadership Next. Christa, before we dig into your story, I want to get just a few details about Alludo, and I understand you have about 2.5 million customers. So we want to know: Who are they, and how do they use the product?
Christa Quarles: Yeah, so we rebranded our company to Alludo back in September, and it’s sort of a portmanteau for all you do, which is really about knowledge worker software. So we have two, essentially, buckets of businesses that we do. One is workspaces. So our Parallels business enables anybody to work on any operating system on any devices, virtualization software that really exploded during the pandemic. With things like remote application server product, IT departments were having to get to remote workers, and so it became foundational to our remote-work philosophy at the company. And then we also have our application side or you know, we talk about workflow and so these are businesses like MindManager, which is, you know, task software, CorelDRAW, which is graphics software, or WinZip, which really helps around security at rest and security in motion.
Murray: Christa, ;istening to you describe that, the first question that comes to my mind is, who are you competing against? I mean, is it Box and Dropbox? Is it Slack? Is it Miro? Are you taking on Microsoft? Who are you after here?
Lev-Ram: Canva? Everybody.
Quarles: Well, on the virtualization side, it’s pretty specifically VMware and Citrix, and what’s awesome for us as both companies have gotten taken private, are about to get taken private in the next couple of months here. And so what’s exciting there is that both companies have also said that they’re going to fire all their customers that are under 5,000 employees, they’re going to get rid of all their small customers. This is the Broadcom strategy. So I looked at the team and said, my goodness, there’s a swath of blue ocean that just opened up right in front of us. Let’s go after it. So it’s a really exciting time. You know, I think if you look at the graphic side, you know, we’re kind of sandwiched in between Adobe, and maybe Figma and Canva. And both are giant giants in the business. We take a little sliver of that in this area called vector graphics, which allows for like high pixelation so if you want to wrap a bus in a design, that’s something that you would have to do on a product like CorelDRAW.
Lev-Ram: Okay, so we’re going to get into more about the company and the product and remote work, and I know Alan has a lot of thoughts around that.
Murray: So many.
Lev-Ram: So many. It’s going to be fun in just a bit. But Christa, I want to hear a little bit about your story and kind of your evolution as a leader and your story, for me, at least begins in Aspen. That sounds very bougie, but in Aspen in 2017, there was this amazing moment, and I know it was a moment for you as well. We were at Brainstorm Tech, our annual tech conference. We had a town hall about diversity and inclusion, and one of our speakers said something about women not supporting each other. You just yelled out “bullshit.” Tell us about that moment. Tell us about what it was for you.
Quarles: Well, first of all, I mouthed the word bullshit. All right.
Lev-Ram: Well, I was very close to you. So it to me it sounded like a quiet yell.
Quarles: So, I kind of had a bit of an out-of-body experience, and I think it was a culmination of all of the injustices that I felt had been done, or perpetrated, or discussed. And here it was, again, it was our fault. The classic like blame the victim, and part of the thesis was just, it’s hard to, you know, have you know, support another woman when you’re the only woman in the room. And this idea of scarcity was so, you know, demonstrable in the experience. And by the way, this was before Time’s Up and before #MeToo. This was just, you know, the stories were just beginning to come out. And and it just really, I just couldn’t do it anymore. I think, if I take a step back, so much of this is about, as a leader, getting really clear and connected to your personal values. Because I think, when you know what you stand for, the decisions, the commentary, the communication all just become obvious. And it was in that moment where my values were being crossed, and I had to stand up.
Murray: Well, good for you. But here we’re six years beyond now. Has it gotten better for the tech industry? What is the situation for women in tech?
Quarles: You know, I mean that there’s a loud exhalation. I don’t know if it’ll get picked up.
Murray: We heard it. I think the production team can amplify it if you want them to.
Quarles: One of the sets of studies we looked at was just dollars going into venture, for example, that are supporting female founders. And it went down over the last year or two, and it was at a paltry 2% for female focus founders, and it was like 7% for like one female founder. But you know, I think you know, so I think it hasn’t maybe gotten worse, but I don’t think it’s necessarily gotten better. And you know, one of things I did is like in the last couple years, I dove into like evolutionary psychology books, because I’m like, why is going on out there? Because I don’t think if you talk to men, there is a desire to say, hey, women are not able, or not qualified. I don’t think there’s a prefrontal cortex decision going on here. I feel like it’s something deeper almost and, and I think it comes out yeah, they look and saying like, well, are tall people better leaders? You look at the Fortune 500, and over 80% of those CEOs are taller than six feet tall. So, are tall people just naturally better leaders? Are short people not as good? And I always will put it in tall and short versus male or female, simply because people are going to go well, that’s dumb, but it is, it is. So you know, I mean, what do we think about when we make some of these decisions?
Lev-Ram: I have to point out that you’re actually pretty tall, Christa.
Quarles: So I probably benefited. I joke all the time that I showed up as a man to be accepted by men in the workplace, and I was tall, I am tall, I played basketball, and I’m sure that that in some way, shape, or form gave me a leadership benefit that maybe I did or didn’t deserve, but it was a bias that you know, in some ways probably did benefit me.
Lev-Ram: So going back to that moment in 2017, you were running OpenTable at the time, another company. Did anything change for you? Did you get to 50/50?
Quarles: I feel like the Fortune moment was such a gift, because we look inside and say, Gosh, you stood up and made all this kerfuffle. But if we’re not, you know, doing it ourselves and doing it well, then how dare I? And so it was a great moment of introspection and it was from that where, you know, we looked across the overall company and had done a pretty good job in areas except for engineering.
I happen to have gone to Carnegie Mellon, and I happened to be aware that 50% of the computer science grads at Carnegie Mellon were women. So the the highest institute—you know, we think we’re better than MIT—the highest computer science program in the country was able to do it, and why? And how? And you know, I looked into their example, and so we started to make changes in our own organization, and I in particular, you know, said it was important, which I think is the most critical thing. Any leader can do this whole, like, Let’s go hire a chief diversity officer, and then all of a sudden diversity problems get solved by this person in the corner who doesn’t necessarily have the moral authority to drive and direct the business. It’s just not going to happen. Because CEO doesn’t want it to happen, or doesn’t enable it to happen, it will not happen.
And so we changed our entire recruiting process from, you know, putting our resumes through gender and person of color identifying kind of anonymizers, so there wouldn’t be bias at the head end. We had to have two diverse candidates in a slate, because if you have one diverse candidate, it doesn’t work. We changed our entire [interviewing] panels, because if you got interviewed by two men, you’re not going to join. So we just looked at the entire throughput, and then the next quarter, 50% of the women that we hire, or the engineers that we hire are women. And so it was just like, wow, okay, like any problem, any business problem you put your mind to, you look at the system that sits around it, and it’s usually a systems level issue, it’s not even an individual bias. So it’s, you know, it’s James Clear and you rise to the level of your goals? No, you sink to the level of your systems, and if you don’t have a system around it, you’re going to fail.
Murray: Jason Girzadas, the CEO Elect of Deloitte US, is the sponsor of this podcast and joins me today. Welcome, Jason.
Jason Girzadas: Thank you, Alan. It’s great to be here.
Murray: Jason, public trust in institutions has taken a hit in recent years, but trust in business remains relatively strong. Why do you think that is? Why does it matter?
Girzadas: rust is a function of businesses meeting their stakeholders’ expectations and creating value. That is true for customers. That’s true for the workforce. It’s true for society at large. And I think given the challenges that other key pillars of the economy and society have faced in terms of trust, businesses have an opportunity to actually rise above that set of concerns and forge new levels of trust with all their stakeholders. This is an opportunity for businesses to really lead around trust, creating experiences that are reliable, resilient, as well as fulfilling their expectations to those stakeholders. And over time, I think trust will be a function of are businesses actually meeting the human needs that are resident, whether it’s around health and well-being, or contributing to the environment, or to worker satisfaction and engagement.
Murray: Jason, thanks for your perspective. And thanks for sponsoring Leadership Next.
Girzadas: Thank you.
Murray: I want to go back to Alludo and remote work, which is what you’re, and I feel like Michal, is setting me up here. This is the first time this is the first time Michal and I have done this podcast together, and she knows that I recently told our team that come the fall, our expectation is you’ll spend three days a week with your colleagues. And look, I feel like the pandemic was an amazing period. People learned to work from home really well. Productivity was very high. It gave you a kind of a balance in your work and your life that was really impressive. And I want to keep all of that. I want to keep as much of that as possible. But I also feel like something was lost. That the connections between people, the trust, particularly between it’s what people refer to as loose ties, you know. The teams that were on Zoom calls together every day could work together well, but the interaction between teams, you could feel it eroding. As I said, I think Michal is setting us up for an argument here, but I’m really eager to hear how you think about that and what your view of that is.
Quarles: First, a lot of what you said is true. You know, and I think when people hear the word remote first, they then interpret meet never. And that is not the intention. We gather all the time to come together, to break bread. And I learned this actually during my time at OpenTable. The purpose of a meal is also special. Like I remember being in front of a very angry restaurant customer. And all of a sudden, like she ordered oysters to come in, and then all of a sudden we started eating, and the entire tenor of the interaction changed, and I thought to myself like, wow, there’s something really human that happens when you break bread. And so we absolutely invest in that. We meet regularly in those contexts, but when we gather it is highly intentional. We know our purpose for being there. Every time we have an off-site, I say the number one thing we’re doing here is neurobiological connection. We are wiring ourselves together so that we can tell each other like really honest, direct things next month, because we had that moment, we have that trust. You are 100% right that trust and trust building absolutely needs to be invested in.
Where I have disagreement—and I see this over and over and over with knowledge workers—is they come into an office and they spend eight hours on a Zoom call with colleagues that are not in that particular office or are not there that day. And now you’ve you’ve added two additional hours of that person’s work, because it took them an hour to get in, and an hour home. They haven’t probably been able to get out to exercise during lunch. So they’re coming back and they’re foggy in the afternoon. So they’re not able to produce. And so, I just think what it’s done is, it is an identity crisis for leaders, because leaders now have to change the way that they operate. Because it used to be, I’d go into the office—I mean by the way, if you’d asked me in 2019 if I would ever have dreamt of leaning into this, I would have said no, I’ve got to kiss the babies and press the flesh and see the person making coffee and corner somebody in the elevator—but what I have done is you know, I think there was a lot of motion in the organization and not a lot of progress. And I think it’s forcing people to look at outputs, not necessarily inputs. I was talking about was like well, Bob’s doing a great job. He’s getting in at seven and he’s leaving at seven, and that Bob was crushing it. I don’t know what Bob was doing, what he was producing. We have no idea, yet the bias was, he was crushing it. And so we’ve got to change the paradigm to look at outputs to be able to measure what the what done looks like. Do you have a better marketing plan when somebody’s, you know, hovering over your shoulder, kind of thing? And so I do think, yes, you absolutely need to gather. You need to get people together. And you need to set them up for autonomous success to be able to do the work, and so, when when it’s collaborative work, get together. When it is individual work, so I always say like, your personal productivity pod should be wherever you want or need it to be.
Lev-Ram: So okay, you guys are not disagreeing enough for me here.
Murray: We didn’t achieve your goal.
Lev-Ram: No, you really didn’t. But Christa, I mean, we are seeing more and more tech companies coming out and saying that they’re seeing the data is showing them that employees who are remote, employees who came in during the pandemic and are fully remote, are less productive than employees who are in the office, to some extent at least. So why is that? And are you seeing that, and how do how do leaders handle that?
Quarles: I think so. I think some of the data is correct. And I think part of that goes into your middle managers. Right. So, like I saw Mark Zuckerberg made his comment right and, and I think it’s a question of, how then are those you know, leaders set off to work? How are your middle managers driving and cascading the mission of what’s happening? A lot of these companies, by the way, are having to rewrite their DNA, though. So when you look at the profligate times of, really we had free money from 2008 to 2023. So 15 years of essentially free money in our businesses and whatnot. And so you had a mechanism that we solve problems by throwing bodies at the system, and there was growth at any cost. It was, you know, there was no desire to create focus, efficiency, and things of that nature. And so I think what you’re also seeing is a bunch of companies who were not super profitable, who hadn’t already scrutinized the elements because they didn’t have to, the market wasn’t requiring them to. And now you’ve got, you know, my classmate Brad Gershom saying, you know, flatter is faster, and you know, with his open letter to Meta, and he’s right. And so, if you haven’t and don’t have that structure, you’re going to have to do some interesting and material things to the organizational design of your business in order to be able to get to the outcome that you’re seeking, because it’s not built into your DNA. Your DNA is spend it, spend it, spend it.
Murray: This is not achieving your goals at all, Michal, because I agree with everything Christa is saying. I do think at the end of the day, it’s a leadership challenge, and maybe a leadership challenge that people aren’t quite rising to yet. Although you would think after two years, we would have it figured out. But I’ve written a haiku on the subject. And I don’t think I should—I don’t think I should recite it to you until we discuss why haikus are appropriate for this conversation.
Quarles: So I often joke about you know, leadership by haiku. And what the heck is that? First of all, it’s just constraints-led approach. And one of the things like, when you are given no constraints and you know, your venture capitalist is saying, Gosh, you know, the world is your oyster, you know, we’re going to just keep pouring the jet fuel on. You’re like, Well, I gotta go over here and start this business, and I’m going to go over and look at this adjacent thing and look at these things, and let’s have these markets, none of which were probably profitable. None of them were the unit economics has looked at. And so what you saw was just this explosion in activity. You know, a lot of it needed to be pruned, you know, kind of going back to the brain, like if you have a bunch of stuff and it doesn’t get pruned, it just turns into a mess. And I think the beauty of it you know, I started talking about this, I was like, it’s like, you know, it’s like a haiku. You know, you get 17 syllables. You can be really creative, and really thoughtful with that focus. And, and I just think that most great companies when given a set of constraints that they have to operate within, become much more innovative and creative as a result.
Lev-Ram: Do you communicate to your team in this way? Are your people getting Christa’s haikus constantly? How does this manifest itself in your leadership style?
Quarles: Mostly the idea I think, although you know, I learned for example, we have a strong or large European presence, and our German workers didn’t really know what a haiku was. So that was just an interesting byproduct that…
Lev-Ram: There are also a lot of syllables in the German language.
Quarles: That’s probably why.
Murray: It’s one word. Seventeen syllables, one word.
Quarles: You’re probably right, Michal, they just couldn’t stuff it in. I, unfortunately, double majored in German in college. But yeah, so it’s not a universally known concept, but it’s definitely known and you know, in our English-speaking markets, and, and I think people just got it it was like, Oh, I can’t do a bunch of stuff. I’ve got to really focus in. I’m not like a regular Yoda in the office, you know, speaking in these, you know, obscure haiku. But I think it is, it’s just a reminder of the times that we were in before. How, you know, I think, again, profligate that many of these companies where everybody’s getting religion, everybody’s recognizing that profitability is the new kind of gospel, because the money was just coming in the door, and now the money is not. Hopefully the money is secure in the banks that you have them.
Lev-Ram: Oh, Alan, are you are you giving us your haiku at the end, or are we doing this now?
Murray: It’s your call, Michal. But if I show you mine, you have to reciprocate.
Lev-Ram: I don’t know.
Murray: I do have one other subject before we get to the haiku, because I know I maybe we should end on it, and that is rebranding. I mean, I’ve been watching these things, literally for four decades. It’s very scary, Michal, for me to say that. But what at what point did you decide that Corel needed to be Alludo and why?
Quarles: Well, I mean, at the point I got recruited, to be honest.
Murray: It preceded you.
Quarles: Well, no, no. I got recruited. KKR called at [inaudible]. And they said, How about Corel? And I, you know, kind of furrowed my brow a little bit and I was like, I remember this dusty old Canadian software brand. I will admit I had some, you know, disdain and curiosity. But what I found underneath the hood was a collection of really high-performing software assets, you know, subscription-based cash generative, that we could then go do something with. And if I was having that moment, I can’t imagine the employees that we would go on and hire, or the customers that we would go and talk to, and so, and then you’re right, it’s not for the faint of heart. We use the same branding agency that Airbnb use. So we found somebody who like, understood what we’re trying to create as a company. I tried to recreate the company that I wished I could have joined when I was 22. And the values that sat underneath, the ambitions that we had, and then when kind of all you do thing came together, what I observed anyways people, a little synapse kind of fires in their head and we talk about knowledge work, they get it and then they never forget it. And so it was just a great collective example from a team. Our branding team is amazing. And so it’s been fun. And I was told again, it was not for the faint of heart, but I think what’s been interesting is you’re trying to work and now earn and build the brand value that sits underneath. A name is just a name. How you activate, how you show up in the world, how you speak to the world is everything, and so, we’ve got to earn and build and invest in that.
Murray: How do you feel about Fortune? Because we’ve been using this one for 93 years. Wondering if we could take it for another 100 years. Are you okay with that?
Quarles: Oh, it’s funny. You guys will laugh at this. On my LinkedIn profile. I have F150 board member, or something like that, because I was trying to keep the words. Somebody asked me like, What do I do with the Ford F-150 truck? And I was like, Well, I thought Fortune could stand on its own with just the F, but apparently it’s also Ford. So, I don’t know. [inaudible]
Lev-Ram: Thank you. Well, we’ll take it. It actually you reminded me of another question I wanted to ask you. You were at Disney for quite a while and had a played a really key role there on the digital side. And it’s so interesting to watch the transition and the transformation there and talk about a, you know, a brand that’s got some some heft. But what do you what, you know, from your point of view, where do you think things are going there? What do you think of Bob Iger coming back and the task that he has today? Not an easy one.
Quarles: Not an easy one, but honestly, there’s—I haven’t met a leader like Bob Iger. I think he is unparalleled in this space. I mean, one of the things where I’ve been part of the gaming space at Disney, and what just completely impressed me, was how he could go from debating the finer points of The Sims with me one day, and then, you know, they’re building Disneyland Shanghai, so like, conduct high-level Chinese diplomacy the next day. His capacity to dive in deep is extraordinary. And you’re seeing it right like they’re cutting out. He’s managing by haiku, the way, right now. You’re seeing him cut out all of the superfluous stuff. I mean, even just like the virtual world stuff is going away, because you know, it’s like, does any of this make sense? Does any of this really hit at the consumer level? And he has such an incredible grasp of what the consumer needs but also, you know, kind of the financial fortitude to understand where it’s making sense, and where it’s working and where it’s not. So I’m glad he’s back. I hope he’s doing okay. I hope he’s got the energy for it.
Murray: I just had this remembrance, Michal, was it the same Brainstorm Tech where Christa called bullshit and Bob Iger sat on the stage and told us—I think Disneyland Shanghai had just opened—and told us the surprise hit…
Murray: …Disneyland Shanghai was turkey legs, turkey legs.
Lev-Ram: Turkey legs. Yeah, it’s…
Quarles: What I remember is that Michal was desperately trying to ask the succession question, and Bob was very successful bridging over turkey leg supply chain. And so he did a masterful job of trying to get around answering these questions.
Lev-Ram: He dodged the question and, you know, to your point, I think amazed everyone with the fact that he knew where the turkey legs were sourced from, which was Poland, randomly so.
Murray: Yeah, I’ve never I’ve never looked at a turkey leg the same way since.
Lev-Ram: I don’t think I’ve eaten one since.
Murray: Is this the moment?
Lev-Ram: I think we’re at the Haiku point here. Yes.
Murray: Do you want me to go first?
Murray: Okay, can I have, like, attention and silence?
A look, a sound, a taste, smell.
We belong together.
Lev-Ram: Very deep, very deep. It’s hard to follow that. Christa, do you have one up your sleeve that you would like to share?
Quarles: I’m going to go a little more practical. Although, I have a 15-year-old, so the pheromones thing it’s a little too traumatic for me. I’m going to go with a more business-y practical thing. So, here we go.
What do you measure?
Is it outputs or inputs?
Only one matters.
Lev-Ram: That was very deep too, in a different way.
Murray: Oh, that was good. That was good.
Lev-Ram: Okay, my turn. All right. This is mine.
Today is the day
I step into big shoes and
I will do my best.
Lev-Ram: I love it. I think I’m going to try to parent by haiku from now on, Christa. So we’ll see if that works.
Quarles: And your young ones will appreciate it.
Lev-Ram: Well, Christa. It’s just been fantastic talking to you and reconnecting and, you know, we, again that moment at Brainstorm Tech in 2017 is seared in all of our minds. It was definitely one of those moments we really always remember, and as we’re programming future town halls, we bring it up constantly. So it’s just, it’s been great watching everything that you’ve done, before and since.
Quarles: Well, thank you and you know, I’m a fan of Fortune. Keep the brand. I think it’s a good idea. And I can see the companies and individuals values shine in the way that you guys report. So always, always enjoyable to watch what you put out.
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