Emails detail Google's battle to stop Facebook from poaching its employees

New emails show that Google bribed Facebook with a "deeper relationship" so long as they stopped hiring Google employees.

Apple, Google, and a slew of other high-tech firms are currently embroiled in a class-action lawsuit on allegations that they all adhered to tacit anti-poaching agreements. With that case currently ongoing, we've seen a number of interesting executive emails come to light, including emails showing that Steve Jobs threatened Palm CEO with a full-fledged legal assault if the company kept going after Apple engineers.

One company that, to its credit, remained above the fray was Facebook. Indeed, reports from last week show that current Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg refused to stop poaching Google employees or engage in any type of mutual do-not-solicit type of agreements.

After poring over a multitude of recently filed legal documents in the case, I was able to unearth some fascinating emails between Sandberg and former Google Senior VP of Product Management Jonathan Rosenberg, wherein it's readily apparent that Google was beyond concerned with its employees going to Facebook. What's more, the emails below show that Google was trying to bribe Facebook with a "deeper relationship" so long as they stopped hiring Google employees.

Let's dive in.

First up, we have a 2007 email from Sergey Brin to Marissa Mayer (now Yahoo CEO) about employee retention, specifically highlighting the problem of employees jumping ship to Facebook.

Brin's email reads in part:

The facebook phenomenon creates a real retention problem, I now realize, not just because of FB's direct hiring but the more insidious effect that everyone wants to start the next facebook or get rich by having a popular fb app...

And now things get really interesting. Flash forward to a few months later and we're treated to a particularly telling August 2008 exchange between Google's Rosenberg and Facebook's Sandberg.

Here we see that Google viewed Facebook's hiring of its employees as a "Defcon 2" situation that could only be assuaged if the two companies agreed to "stay out of each other's way..."

Following that, Sandberg responds that she isn't quite sure what Rosenberg means by "Defcon 2," to which Rosenberg writes: "I was referring to the broad relations between us, primarily related to employees leaving from one company and going to the other which have severely strained relations."

Following that, Sandberg noted that Facebook hires employees from all over and that the company would, in fact, like a deep relationship with Google.

Rosenberg, though, is quite adamant that employees going from Google to Facebook is a serious problem.

My personal opinion is that I think you are putting too much weight in your view of the notion of "not soliciting" as though soliciting in itself is the only that that upsets people. Rather, it is the outcome of people going from one company to the other which is problematic. If the outcome were not occurring at scale, independent of the mechanism bywhich people move, that would serve as an opportunity to build on better relations. I don't think people look at each individual case and as, "how did this happen and did folks play according to the rules". I think people just look at the overall repot and say x people went from one place to another and that's bad.

Smelling the hypocrisy, Sandberg then asks Rosenbeg what his views are on Google's hiring practices. Rosenberg doesn't quite understand what Sandberg is getting at and notes that it would be better if neither company hired folks from one another.

Clarifying her point, Sandberg writes:

What I meant is that google grew by hiring from other firms in our industry - even when they minded and people like meg called eric - as we believed in a free labor market. We are not specifically trying to hire from Google. To the contrary, on the margin, we hire less not more from google as we want our hiring to be broad based. We hire mostly from school directly and we want to continue that. On experienced hires, we want varied experience.

Following that, Rosenberg essentially tells Sandberg to "fix this problem" and hinges a deeper relationship between Facebook and Google on Facebook hiring fewer folks from Google.

It is my perception that the rate of you all hiring our people has gone up and not down over the last several months. I don't have the data committed to memory, but there is the strong perception that losing people to you is currently a problem for us and one that is has getting worse and not better.

I am making a very simple observation on what I think it takes to develop a better and deeper relationship between us since you say you want that and I do too.

Fix this problem. Propose that you will substantially lower the rate at which you hire people from us. Then make sure that happens. As the rate goes down, I would expect the relationship to deepen.

Sandberg's response then hints to a real estate issue between Google and Facebook.

I've embedded the pertinent documents to Scribd, vieweable below.

Facebook Google Sandberg

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