People - May 2006

She finds smoother selling in America
By Chris Richter

Lori Jarrett is an easy target. Her company, VirtuosoWorks Inc., was one of those software companies, moving to India in early 2003 for the cheap labor. On top of that, its signature software could take jobs from musicians.

But VirtuosoWorks came back to Greensboro in 2004, and it’s growing. Notion, its $599 software, enables users to compose music on a computer. As they write, they can listen using sampled notes from the London Symphony Orchestra.

Jarrett’s interest in music started early. Her father, Jack, was a music professor at UNC Greensboro when she was in elementary and middle school. After getting a bachelor’s in guitar performance from Virginia Commonwealth University in 1986, she planned to attend Manhattan School of Music to prepare for a career as a classical guitarist, but a bout with mononucleosis changed her mind. “I thought, if this were 20 years from now, I’d be in the same position,” Jarrett, 45, recalls. “I wouldn’t have health insurance. There are only a few people who have a career as a performer.”

Temp jobs had kept her afloat, and she dabbled with computers while at Bowery Savings Bank, eventually becoming its go-to person for information technology. In 1988, she moved to The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corp., now London-based HSBC Holdings, where she headed microcomputer support and purchasing for offices in North America and Chile.

She returned to Greensboro in 1994. Jarrett and her husband, software developer Rahm Sethuraman, started a company to outsource IT work to India, but the idea was ahead of its time. Two years later, they teamed up with her father to start a company to develop a music-notation software. Money grew tight, so they moved to India in 2003. They struggled until an oil-company executive who loved classical music invested $600,000.

VirtuosoWorks returned to Greensboro, Jarrett says, because they believed they had to be in the U.S. to market Notion. Operating costs increased more than 90%, but she says the company has thrived. It has about 40 employees, doesn’t outsource work and should gross $1.3 million this year. Jarrett, its CEO, wouldn’t say if it’s profitable.

She understands why some people fear for musicians’ jobs but considers them a choir of Chicken Littles. “People still want to hear live music. They always will. We don’t want to replace that.”