Apple, Intel Cherry-Picking Talent From HP's WebOS Team

Uncertainty in Hewlett Packard's WebOS business unit has opened the door for Apple, Intel and a host of mobile startups to lure away some of HP's sales and engineering talent.

Here's what we know about WebOS at this point: HP shuttered its WebOS hardware operations in October and has around 600 remaining WebOS employees. HP is open sourcing WebOS and the Enyo development environment, and it also has designs on getting back into WebOS tablets, although CEO Meg Whitman has said this probably won't happen until 2013.

What's still unclear is whether HP's future WebOS course will require the contributions of all the business unit's 600 employees. Whitman, in a December interview with The Verge, didn't rule out additional WebOS layoffs. In the meantime, some mobile sales and engineering staff have decided to continue their careers at other companies.

One example is Venkat Vasireddi, former senior software engineer/technical lead for WebOS products, who joined Apple earlier this month as a senior software engineer, according to his LinkedIn profile.

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Apple, which over the course of the past year has been quietly building its indirect channel capabilities, and courting Microsoft partners for iOS integration work, also recently hired two of HP's WebOS channel managers.

Matt Schnell, former WebOS national sales manager in HP's Solution Partners Organization (SPO), joined Apple in November as director of iPhone business-to-business sales. He joined Palm in 2005 and held a variety of sales roles prior to HP's $1.2 billion acquisition of the company in 2010, including director of business-to-business channels, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Jim Dudenhoefer, former national sales manager for HP's enterprise focused WebOS Sales Specialists Team, joined Apple earlier this month as regional sales director for the company's U.S. iPhone channel, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Dudenhoefer joined Palm in 2006 and served in a variety of sales management roles there. This is actually Dudenhoefer's third stint with Apple: He was a senior account executive from 2002 to 2006, and an account executive from 1993 to 1997.

Apple didn't respond to a request for comment on the hires. But in all three cases, the employees joined Apple the same month they left HP, according to their LinkedIn profiles.

Were they recruited away from HP? CRN was unable to verify this, but Apple and Palm do have a long history of recruiting each other's talent. In the most notable case, Palm hired former Apple executive Jon Rubinstein in June 2007 and elevated him to CEO two years later. He's still at HP as senior vice president of product innovation for the Personal Systems Group.

In August 2007, the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs reached out to Ed Colligan, Palm's then-CEO, to propose that the companies agree not to hire away each other's employees. Colligan reportedly declined on the grounds that doing so would be potentially illegal.

Meanwhile, HP declined to comment on how many WebOS employees have left the company and how many remain. HP did say that the WebOS departures won't impact the company's plan to distribute WebOS under an open source license.

"The development tasks necessary to bring an open source WebOS to market are under way and HP will be an active contributor to the community after the code is published," an HP spokesperson told CRN in an emailed statement. "We will communicate a roadmap and timeline for publishing the WebOS source code as soon as possible."

NEXT: Intel Brings In Former WebOS Staffers For Mobile Push

Intel has also been bringing in ex-HP WebOS talent as the chipmaker looks to raise its profile in smartphones and tablets.

In November, Intel hired Larry Barras, who spent three years at HP and Palm as principal software architect for WebOS, as a software engineering manager in the Intel Ultra Mobility Group, according to his LinkedIn profile. Barras left HP in October, and it's unclear if he resigned or was part of the first round of WebOS layoffs that took place that month.

Margaret Burgraff, who spent two and a half years at HP and Palm as senior director of quality assurance for WebOS, joined Intel in November as senior director of worldwide quality, according to her LinkedIn profile. She previously spent more than 15 years at Apple in various quality assurance management roles.

Intel declined to comment on the hires.

Intel got a late start in mobility, but at CES earlier this month, it unveiled a "multi-year, multi-device" strategic partnership with Motorola Mobility that will combine Intel's newest Atom Z2460 processor, dubbed Medfield, with Motorola's Android-based devices.

Mobility startups are also taking advantage of the uncertainty surrounding WebOS. MobileIron, a mobile device management startup based in Mountain View, Calif., in December hired Renchi Raju, director of WebOS system user interface and platform userspace at HP, as a director of engineering.

Larry Leonardi, an HP regional solution specialist for WebOS, started with MobileIron earlier this month as channel enablement manager for the Northeast Region. A spokesperson for MobileIron confirmed both hires in an email to CRN.

Leonardi spent five years at Palm as national sales manager, managing the company's business-to-business channel, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Mobilisafe, a Seattle-based mobile security startup that's currently in stealth mode, in December hired Sajal Sahay, former vice president of carrier channel marketing for WebOS, as vice president of marketing.

The recent WebOS departures follow the high profile exits of Michael Rizkalla, senior director of WebOS Application Development at HP who left in November for a position as senior director of mobile applications at Xobni, a San Francisco based social media startup; and Richard Kerris, former vice president of WebOS worldwide developer relations, who left in November and joined Nokia as head of global developer relations.

Turnover in the IT business is a fact of life, so it may be too far a leap to view the recent WebOS departures are part of a mass exodus of mobile talent from HP. At the same time, there's no arguing that competition in this space is growing more intense by the day, and that holding onto mobile talent will continue to be a challenge -- for all vendors.