VMware Staff Blast Hire of AWS Manager Who Faced Probe

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(Bloomberg) -- VMware Inc. employees are sharply criticizing the company’s decision to hire a former Amazon Web Services executive who was subject to an internal investigation over alleged discriminatory comments.

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VMware told staff on Tuesday that Joshua Burgin, a former general manager at Amazon.com Inc.’s cloud unit, would join as a senior leader in the Palo Alto, California-based company’s developer and application platform division, known internally as DAP. He is slated to report to general manager Ajay Patel.

“A diverse candidate slate was met while conducting a thorough and rigorous interview process for this position,” Patel wrote in an internal announcement to employees. “The process included internal and external candidates, including multiple women who were targeted in the search for this role and part of the interview process.”

Burgin worked at AWS for more than seven years before departing in December. In 2019, he faced an internal investigation over alleged discriminatory comments made to a Black female employee. The inquiry led to a recommendation that Burgin be fired, the news site Protocol reported, citing people familiar with the matter. Amazon told the news outlet it “conducted a thorough investigation” into the allegations and “took what we believe was the appropriate corrective action.” Burgin remained at the company after the inquiry.

The announcement of Burgin’s hire at VMware spurred an immediate blowback from employees, who questioned why the software company would choose to extend an offer to an individual who had been subject to such an investigation in an earlier role, according to screenshots of companywide chat messages viewed by Bloomberg.

“It is insulting that he is hired despite our claim to want to improve DE&I,” an employee wrote, referring to diversity, equality and inclusion efforts. “It is insulting that he would be presented to us as someone who has a commitment to these initiatives as if we might not find out.”

In statement, a VMware spokesperson said the company “cannot comment specifically about Joshua’s prior experience at AWS.”

“We conducted due diligence that included extensive interviews with former colleagues, as we do with new senior-level hires. Through this process, it became apparent that Joshua treats everyone with respect and has a strong, demonstrated commitment to building inclusive and well-represented teams,” the spokesperson wrote in an email.

Burgin couldn’t be reach for comment. VMware spun off Nov. 1 as an independent company from Dell Technologies Inc.

The staff pushback was so severe to the hiring announcement that VMware held an all-hands call Thursday to address the complaints, said people familiar with the incident, who asked not to be identified talking about internal company discussions. Employees weren’t allowed to ask questions verbally on the call, which lasted about an hour. Instead, VMware required that questions be submitted in writing. Following that discussion, a second, unpublicized, call was held that eventually grew to roughly 80 employees as workers shared the link with one another, the people said.

On the first call, Patel acknowledged the AWS investigation, but told employees he wasn’t able to discuss specifics due to legal reasons, the people said. Patel also told employees that VMware was unaware of the allegations against Burgin when it first offered him the job. Once it was brought to the company’s attention, VMware halted the offer, conducted additional background checks and held conversations with several “character witnesses,” including “at least four women,” the people said.

Patel urged employees to give Burgin a chance, stressing his strong commitment to diversity and inclusion issues. Executives, including Patel and vice president Craig McLuckie, also said they would “stake their reputation” on the hire, according to the people.

“I understand that there will be a bias to expect the worst and am not going to ask you to take what we say at face value,” McLuckie wrote in a companywide chat responding to employees. “At the end of a very extensive process we feel he is the right person to lead the team.”

However, Patel also told employees that should the company decide to continue to move forward with Burgin’s hire, he would release in 10 days protocols to address employee concerns, one of the people said.

That didn’t satisfy employees, who continued to vent about the hiring decision.

“The repeat statement of ‘We need to give him a chance and let the process work’ is discouraging,” another employee wrote in the companywide chat. “I don’t know if Joshua will work out or not. But I now feel very strongly that our current leadership has failed us.”

(Corrects the way employees could pose questions in the 10th paragraph.)

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