Microsoft in standoff with Amazon over big hire, names Charlie Bell to lead ‘bold’ new security group

Charlie Bell (LinkedIn Photo)

Microsoft confirmed that it has hired longtime Amazon Web Services leader Charlie Bell to lead a newly formed engineering organization to address cybersecurity and related issues, but said it has so far been unable to reach an agreement with Amazon over Bell’s non-compete contract with the company.

“We believe Charlie Bell’s new role can help advance cybersecurity for the country and the tech sector as a whole, and we are committed to continuing our constructive discussions with Amazon,” said Frank Shaw, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of communications, in a statement Wednesday morning. “We’re sensitive to the importance of working through these issues together, as we’ve done when five recent Microsoft executives moved across town to work for Amazon.”

GeekWire has contacted Amazon for comment.

In a memo to employees, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said Bell “will assume his job duties once a resolution is reached with his former employer.”

“Charlie is a respected technology leader with a proven track record of building world-class platforms,” Nadella wrote in the memo. “The next big challenge for our company and our industry is securing digital technology platforms, devices, and clouds in our customers’ heterogenous environments. This is a bold ambition we are going after and is what attracted Charlie to Microsoft.”

Bell described the group and his motivations in more detail in a post on LinkedIn:

I’m thrilled to join Microsoft to take on one of the greatest challenges of our time, leading a newly formed engineering organization: Security, Compliance, Identity, and Management. As digital services have become an integral part of our lives, we’re outstripping our ability to provide security and safety. It’s constantly highlighted in the headlines we see every day: fraud, theft, ransomware attacks, public exposure of private data, and even attacks against physical infrastructure. This has been weighing on my mind and the best way I can think to describe it is “digital medievalism,” where organizations and individuals each depend on the walls of their castles and the strength of their citizens against bad actors who can simply retreat to their own castle with the spoils of an attack. We all want a world where safety is an invariant, something that is always true, and we can constantly prove we have. We all want digital civilization. I believe Microsoft is the only company in a position to deliver this and I couldn’t be more excited to work with this talented team to make the world safer for every person and organization on the planet.

Bell worked at Amazon for more than 23 years, including the past 15 years as a top executive in the company’s cloud unit, reporting to Andy Jassy, Amazon’s new CEO, in Jassy’s prior role as AWS CEO. As an AWS senior vice president, Bell’s role included broad oversight of AWS services, including product definition, pricing, software development and operations.

News of his departure from Amazon first emerged in August, followed by reports two weeks later that he had taken an unspecified role at Microsoft. Until now, however, Microsoft had not confirmed that it had hired Bell nor offered any details on the nature of his new role.

Bell had been considered a candidate to replace Jassy as CEO of AWS, but that role went to Adam Selipsky, the former CEO of Tableau Software in Seattle, who rejoined Amazon to succeed Jassy as the top AWS executive.

Non-compete agreements, which have been rendered virtually unenforceable in California, are still allowed in Washington state. However, under a state law passed in 2019, they can’t be applied to employees who make less than $100,000, and they can’t cover a period of more than 18 months, among other restrictions.

The disconnect between California and Washington state law on non-competes has been one of the factors contributing to disputes between Amazon and Google, for example, when executives left the Seattle-based company to join Google’s cloud division. Some people in the Seattle tech community assumed Microsoft and Amazon would be able to come to terms over Bell’s new role relatively easily, given the record of Microsoft execs going to Amazon, and the fact that both companies are subject to Washington state law.

Key executives who have moved from Microsoft to similar roles at Amazon in recent years include Ian Wilson, vice president of human resources for AWS; David Treadwell, senior vice president of e-commerce services for Amazon, and Shawn Bice, who left Microsoft in 2016 to become AWS vice president of databases before leaving to become president of products and technology for Splunk earlier this year.

One executive with past experience at both companies said it would amount to “mutually assured destruction,” referring to a common principle of nuclear deterrence, if Amazon were to aggressively oppose Bell’s new Microsoft role, given the likelihood that Microsoft would feel compelled to respond in kind the next time one of its top executives leaves for Amazon, which has been more common.

As of Wednesday morning, records show no lawsuit filed over the issue in King County Superior Court in Seattle, which is the typical venue for such disputes.

Source: GeekWire

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