AWS Lawsuit: Product Marketing Leader Who Left For Google Violated Non-Compete
After being passed up for promotion by Amazon, Brian Hall took a parallel job with rival Google Cloud. AWS CEO Andy Jassy wished him well, but a lawsuit quickly followed.
Amazon Web Services is suing a former product marketing leader on a claim of violating a non-compete agreement by taking essentially the same job for rival Google Cloud.
Up through March, Brian Hall was officially vice president of product marketing at the industry’s dominant public cloud provider—a central player in crafting AWS marketing strategy with detailed knowledge of the company’s 2020-2021 product roadmap, Amazon said in a lawsuit filed in May.
Hall’s comprehensive exposure to not only coming AWS product rollouts, but its customers, is why AWS has petitioned a Washington State Superior Court to block Hall from doing any product marketing work for Google for 18 months following his official departure, as well as attempts to solicit business from customers he got to know in his short Amazon tenure.
“His job was to determine what, when, why, how, where, and to whom Amazon will launch its future cloud products,” the AWS suit reads.
But Hall countered that an AWS senior executive led him to believe the company would not attempt to enforce the non-compete. Hall viewed the clause as overly broad boilerplate language in a non-disclosure agreement he wouldn’t have signed had he thought it might be acted on.
Hall’s manager, AWS Vice President of Worldwide Marketing Ariel Kelman, indicated to Hall that AWS would not enforce the non-compete clause, as Kelman had never seen Amazon attempt such an action against an outgoing marketing employee. Hall figured as much, as he saw the clause as drafted more broadly than necessary to protect Amazon business interests.
In Hall’s mind, that assurance was borne out when Kelman took a job as chief marketing officer at Oracle, also an AWS challenger, and no legal action ensued.
One significant difference is Kelman’s job is based in California, a state that largely rejects the validity of non-competes, whereas Hall’s new position landed him at Google’s Seattle offices in Washington State.
Hall resigned in January after he learned he would not be promoted to replace Kelman. He worked his last day in February, and formally left AWS at the end of March.
Soon after, upon deciding to accept a job offer from the third-largest public cloud provider, he sent an Amazon HR leader a message, and was congratulated on his new position at Google. He also wrote AWS Vice President for Sales and Marketing Matt Garman and AWS CEO Andy Jassy.
Garman wrote back, “I am sorry we couldn’t find a great fit for you at Amazon.”
AWS CEO Andy Jassy also eventually responded with an email saying he wished Hall had a longer run with AWS, but “understand your perspective.” Jassy wished Hall “nothing but the best.”
Hall’s legal response argues those emails gave him further reason to believe AWS would not look to enforce the non-compete.
But a day after Jassy’s email, Amazon “plotted a different course” and eventually sued, Hall argued to the court.
Amazon’s justification is Hall “helped develop and knows the entire confidential Amazon cloud product roadmap for 2020-21. Virtually every day, Hall worked with Amazon’s most senior cloud executives to create and execute those plans. As a result, he was entrusted with an unusually broad view into Amazon’s cloud product plans; its priorities; and its competitive strategy.”
Such knowledge “would obviously be invaluable to Google if he’s allowed to take that parallel and competitive position at Google,” the lawsuit states. And Hall and Google have both “refused Amazon’s requests to modify his role at Google to place him in a position where he will not inevitably use or disclose Amazon’s confidential information.”
Hall joined AWS in June of 2018 after a long career at Microsoft he ended leading its Surface laptop business. A shorter stint as CEO of earbud company Doppler Labs was sandwiched between those engagements.
AWS elaborated on its product development process of “working backwards” in the lawsuit seeking to enforce Hall’s non-compete.
“Amazon starts its development process with a draft press release addressing customer needs, the competitive landscape, and pricing, among others,” it reads. That document is created by a collaboration between marketing and product teams.
Neither AWS nor Google immediately responded to a request for comment