Google, Apple, Intel and Adobe Systems conspired in the biggest hiring antitrust case the U.S. legal system has ever seen. Please tell me you’ve heard the news. I’m still reeling from the true ramifications of what it means for our allegedly anti-monopolistic economy.
It feels like political parties ran roughshod over the electorate, or the monarchies of Great Britain and the Saudi Arabia launched a war. Alas, it’s merely four giant Fortune 10 publicly traded U.S. corporations named Apple, Google, Intel and Adobe Systems that conspired against their very own employees as if they were chattel.
The four leadership teams agreed behind closed doors the contents of which stayed hidden from 2005 to 2009 to a series of no-recruit agreements. Neither of them could recruit programmers from the other’s company. If they did, it was going to be war as stated by Steve Jobs to Sergey Brin, “If you hire a single one of these people, that means war,” extracted from Bloomberg Businessweek cover story May 5, 2014.
Say what you will about Facebook, and everyone has an opinion these days, that company did NOT participate. When Sheryl Sandberg defected from Google to become Facebook’s COO, she took a bunch of Googlers with her. This aggravated the masterminds of the antitrust case because Sandberg refused to join in.
In 2009, the U.S. Department of Justice got wind of the brazen agreements and continuous plotting to keep intellectual property close to home. A settlement in 2011 in which the companies “didn’t admit to wrongdoing or pay fines but agreed to refrain from restraints on ‘soliciting, cold calling recruiting, or otherwise competing for employees.'” (Bloomberg Businessweek)
The settlement? A “modest $324 million.” Think of the combined market cap of these companies and then wonder in awe whether all of them have damn good litigators.
The Programmers of Google and Apple
I hasten a guess these people aren’t hurting in the least. Being a programmer for these Wall Street darlings is a coveted job. A class action suit by 64,000 employees settled for $324 million made no plaintiff rich, and would any of them have wondered whether the grass was greener across the street?
The problem with this entire public relations crisis is not merely the fact these Silicon Valley overlords got away with this for four years that we know of, it’s really the concept that they did it and got away with it as long as they did.
They each regarded, and probably still do, programmers as personal property; the word I used above is accurate — chattel. One iota of knowledge over the competitor is likely enough to skew the scales.
Brands and the Public Relations Strategist
There are no brands as strong as these four companies. There are no two global brands the likes of Apple and Google that don’t conjure a recognition whether positive or negative across the world.
Knowing this happened, does it negatively affect their brands?
Should the public relations strategists roll into high crisis mode to turn around negative public sentiment?
Dow Jones And The Poaching Scandal
Public relations strategists who work for publicly traded companies do investor relations. When a legal battle the likes and importance of this one ensues, everyone is on high alert to expect the worst. Only the worst didn’t happen to the stock prices of Google or Apple after the settlement was announced.
On April 25, 2014, Google’s stock price was down 1.71 while Apple’s went up .73. On the Monday following the close of trading, Google recovered a mere .19 of its Friday loss while Apple’s stock price increased 3.87.
Hardly a blip!
What this debacle comes down to is public sentiment. We can all have a coffee klatsch about the rightness or wrongness of what these Silicon Valley giants did. But, are any of us going to throw away our iPhones or Androids and go buy a Samsung as a result?
Au contraire. I, for one, am going to shake my head in disgust and then nod it vigorously at the audacity of these powerhouses to create such a scheme all in the name of “competition” and get away with it. Because, $324 million is a not even a drop in the bucket.