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Aon sues Willis Towers Watson, new CFO over breaking non-compete agreement

Lawsuit says Willis' new CFO had access to Aon trade secrets from previous work at PwC

Willis Towers Watson and its new Chief Financial Officer Michael Burwell, who is scheduled to start Oct. 2, are being sued by rival Aon over allegations that Mr. Burwell violated a two-year non-compete agreement because he had access to Aon trade secrets in his role as a consultant helping restructure the company.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago on Sept. 25, seeks to prevent Mr. Burwell from working for Willis Towers Watson for two years and is seeking $75 million in damages. It accuses both Willis Towers Watson and Mr. Burwell of violating the Illinois trade secrets act. It also accuses Mr. Burwell of breaching his fiduciary duty and Willis Towers Watson of unfair competition.

On the same day, Willis Towers Watson and Mr. Burwell sought a declaratory judgment from the court that Mr. Burwell did not violate the trade secrets act.

Wills Towers Wason officials and Mr. Burwell did not respond to requests for comment. Donna Mirandola, an Aon spokeswoman, said in an email that the company does not comment on lawsuits.

The lawsuit said Mr. Burwell, in his role as a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, was a "key member of a team" working on a restructuring and cost-cutting project at Aon. The project began in 2016.

Mr. Burwell was "intimately involved in the implementation and execution of the project," the lawsuit says, and because of that, "received confidential information and trade secrets from Aon."

Both Aon and Willis Towers Watson are major institutional investment consultants, have outsourced CIO operations and compete in a variety of other areas including global risk management services.

In the lawsuit, Aon includes a copy of a portion of the non-compete agreement, which bars the PwC consultants from working for named competitors, including Willis Towers Watson, for two years.

The lawsuit says Mr. Burwell began negotiations for his new job at Willis Towers Watson without informing Aon, while still receiving confidential information from the company.

The information he received included a planned restructuring of Aon's management, its business plans for the next two years and information about potential acquisitions by Aon.

The lawsuit demands a trial jury to resolve the matter, though it is common practice in such cases to settle out of court.

According to an excerpt of the agreement between Aon and PwC cited in the complaint, "PwC will not assign any PwC partner, principal or employee performing services hereunder to perform services for a competitor of company on a subject matter arising out of or relating to the subject matter of this engagement for two years following the conclusion of such individual's performance thereon."

Willis announced on Aug. 21 that Mr. Burwell would become the new CFO, replacing Roger Millay, who is scheduled to step down on Oct. 2.