Apple CEO to Palm: I'll Quit Sniffing Your Org Chart if You Quit Sniffing Mine

Published on August 20, 2009
by John Paczkowski

steve_jobs_jaccuseApple appears to have a particular affinity for the unwritten no-poaching agreements said to be so popular among the nation’s biggest tech companies. Earlier this summer, the New York Times reported that Apple may have quietly negotiated an agreement with Google (GOOG) not to hire away each other’s top talent. Now, Bloomberg claims that the company attempted to win a similar commitment from Palm, but was rebuffed.

In August 2007, just after former Apple exec Jon Rubinstein joined Palm, Apple CEO Steve Jobs warned Palm CEO Ed Colligan against poaching his company’s employees. “We must do whatever we can to stop this,” he said, according to communications reviewed by Bloomberg. Colligan declined. “Your proposal that we agree that neither company will hire the other’s employees, regardless of the individual’s desires, is not only wrong, it is likely illegal,” he told the Apple CEO, noting–ironically–that Cupertino had hired away some two percent of Palm’s workforce as it began developing the iPhone.

And that’s proven a wise move. Today, the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating just such gentleman’s agreements as a collusive restraint on trade. And Palm (PALM) and Apple (AAPL) are sparring over intellectual property and the Pre handset, which Apple claims “falsely pretends to be an iPod.” How convenient for Palm that these communications should emerge now when its Cupertino rival is giving it such a hard time. And such a distraction for Apple legal….

Of course, Jobs was right to worry. Within a year of his warning to Colligan, Palm hired away Mike Bell and Lynn Fox, Apple VP of CPU software in the Macintosh hardware division and head of Mac PR respectively, among others hired later. And within two years, Palm debuted a new handset that some consider a worthy rival to the Apple iPhone.

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