Despite anecdotes of Steve Jobs’s capricious treatment of Apple employees, it seems he doesn’t want anybody else to have them. Reports surfaced earlier this month that Cupertino struck a deal with Google that the companies wouldn't hire away each other's employees. Now comes news Jobs may have attempted to make a similar agreement with smartphone rival Palm.
News agency Bloomberg reports that former Palm CEO Ed Colligan rejected such an offer from Jobs in 2007. An e-mail from Colligan to Jobs quoted by Bloomberg says:
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.
The correspondence obtained does not contain the specifics of Jobs’s proposal, but such an agreement, which would likely serve to limit competition, would probably violate antitrust regulations. According to the e-mails, Colligan supposedly considered the offer before ultimately deciding against it.
Free flow of personnel between the companies wasn’t unusual. Palm’s current CEO is former Apple executive Jon Rubinstein, who replaced Colligan in the position, was originally hired to help develop Palm’s new WebOS software. That move may have prompted the proposal, as Jobs was reportedly concerned that Rubinstein was recruiting other engineers from Apple. Meanwhile, Colligan pointed out in an e-mail to Jobs that Apple had hired away around 2 percent of Palm’s employees while it was developing the iPhone.
So far, it does not appear that this particular situation has been the subject of any government investigation, though it was reported in June that the Department of Justice has been looking into antitrust violations in the hiring practices of many technology companies, including Google and Apple.