He worked for Bell Northern Research (later part of Nortel Networks) and then MicroSystems International. He left in 1973 to found Mitel Networks with co-worker Terry Matthews, the company developed and sold electronic PBX systems. Initial success made both founders millionaires. Sales peaked at $250 million but over-expansion and development problems saw the company bought by British Telecom. Both Cowpland and Matthews 'jumped ship' in 1984.
Matthews went on to found Newbridge Networks. Cowpland founded Cowpland Research Laboratory (soon Corel) in Ottawa in 1985. At first the company sold DTP workstations, but success did not arrive until the launch of the graphics software, CorelDraw in 1989. He offered a challenge to Microsoft with a move into productivity software, acquired WordPerfect from Novell for $158 million in 1996. Also targeted CAD, videoconferencing, Java, Linux and other developments. He survived an investigation by the Ontario Securities Commission in 1999-2000 that he sold $20 million in Corel shares shortly before the company posted disappointing results.
With the company in a spiral of falling sales and rising debt, Cowpland left Corel in August 2000. He currently heads Zim Technologies International, a wireless technology company he bought in 2001.
Marlen Cowpland, second wife, married in 1992. Famously lavish lifestyle, 20,000 ft² house in Rockcliffe Park.