27 September 2017Insurance

Aon sues Willis over CFO hire

Broker Aon is suing rival Willis Towers Watson (WTW) over its hiring of Michael Burwell as the new chief financial officer (CFO) because Burwell advised Aon on its restructuring plans as a partner of PwC.

Burwell is set to replace Roger Millay as WTW’s CFO, who is voluntarily retiring on Oct. 2, 2017.

Aon filed a lawsuit at the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, on Monday, September 25.

Burwell had been a partner at PwC before taking the WTW role and was part of a team advising Aon on the restructuring of its business units and various cost-savings initiatives, according to the court filing. Because of the highly-confidential trade secrets, Aon would need to provide PwC in the course of this engagement, Aon required that PwC agree to prevent its consultants and partners from working for Aon’s major competitor, Willis Towers Watson, for two years.

Burwell was a key member of the Aon project team and directed strategy on the Aon engagement and received confidential information and trade secrets from Aon, the court filing says.

The document adds that WTW solicited Burwell for employment knowing of his work on the Aon project and his exposure to Aon’s trade secrets and confidential information.

While negotiating his new position with Aon’s direct competitor, Burwell continued to work on the Aon projects; continued to receive Aon confidential information; and continued to attend confidential strategy meetings with Aon’s most senior executives, according to the court document.

Because Burwell will use Aon’s trade secrets to Aon’s competitive disadvantage if Burwell begins work at Willis, Aon seeks injunctive relief and damages as a result of Burwell’s and Willis’ wrongful acts, according to the lawsuit.

On Monday September 25, Willis filed a complaint at the District Court Eastern District of Michigan Southern Division. In the document, Willis says that after Burwell “promptly notified PwC that he had accepted an offer to become the new CFO at WTW, PwC requested that Burwell acknowledge his continuing obligation to maintain the confidence of and not disclose Aon’s confidential and proprietary information. Burwell readily provided written acknowledgement that he will not use, disclose or divulge any of Aon’s confidential and proprietary information to a third party. Burwell has not divulged and will not divulge any of Aon’s confidential and proprietary information, including trade secrets to the extent they exist.”

Willis continued saying that “for some unexplained reason, Burwell’s assurances to PwC are not enough to satisfy Aon.”

For Willis, it is undisputed that Burwell is not and never has been an Aon employee and that no contractual privity exists between these parties. If Aon had wanted Burwell to be bound by a non-competition agreement that would prevent him, a partner working for a consulting firm, from accepting employment with one of Aon’s competitors, then it had the chance to try and obtain one while Burwell was providing consulting services. Aon chose not to do it then and it certainly cannot create such an obligation now by presumptively speculating that if Burwell becomes WTW’s new CFO, he will inevitably disclose Aon’s trade secrets.

“There is nothing to suggest that Burwell has engaged in any improper or deceitful conduct or that he cannot be trusted with Aon’s confidential and proprietary information, or the confidential and proprietary information of the many other PwC clients he provided services to,” Willis says.

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