Earlier this month, when Nutanix announced it was hiring former VMware COO Rajiv Ramaswami as CEO, it looked like a good match. What’s more, it pulled a key player from a market rival. Well, it seems VMware took exception to losing the executive, and filed a lawsuit against him yesterday for breach of contract.
The company is claiming that Ramaswami had inside knowledge of the key plans of his former company and that he should have told them that he was interviewing for a job at a rival organization.
“Rajiv Ramaswami failed to honor his fiduciary and contractual obligations to VMware. For at least two months before resigning from the company, at the same time he was working with senior leadership to shape VMware’s key strategic vision and direction, Mr. Ramaswami also was secretly meeting with at least the CEO, CFO, and apparently the entire Board of Directors of Nutanix, Inc. to become Nutanix’s Chief Executive Officer. He joined Nutanix as its CEO only two days after leaving VMware,” the company wrote in a statement.
As you can imagine, Nutanix didn’t agree, countering in a statement of its own that, “VMware’s lawsuit seeks to make interviewing for a new job wrongful. We view VMware’s misguided action as a response to losing a deeply valued and respected member of its leadership team. Mr. Ramaswami and Nutanix have gone above and beyond to be proactive and cooperative with VMware throughout the transition.”
At the time of the hiring, analyst Holger Mueller from Constellation Research noted that the two companies were primary competitors and hiring Ramawami was was a big win for Nutanix. “So hiring Ramaswami brings both an expert for multicloud to the Nutanix helm, as well as weakening a key competitor from a talent perspective,” he told me earlier this month.
Mueller doesn’t see much chance of the suit succeeding. “It’s been a long time since the last lawsuit happened in Silicon Valley [involving] a tech exec jumping ship. Being an ’employment at will’ state, these suits are typically unsuccessful,” he told me this morning.
He added, “The interesting part of the VMware v. Nutanix lawsuit is, does a high-ranking executive interviewing with a competitor equal a break of confidentiality by itself, or does material information have to be breached to reach the point. Traditionally the right to (confidentially) interview has been protected by the courts,” he said.
It’s unclear what the end game would be in this type of legal action, but it does complicate matters for Nutanix as it transitions to a new chief executive. Ramaswami took over from co-founder Dheeraj Pandey, who announced plans to leave the post last summer.
The lawsuit was filed Monday in Superior Court of the State of California, County of Santa Clara.