Tech Moves: Microsoft hires activist fired by Amazon; ex-Sprint CEO leaves F5 Networks board

Maren Costa. (Elizabeth Munsson Photo)

Maren Costa, one of two former leaders of the Amazon Employees for Climate Justice group who was fired by Amazon last April, is now a principal lead designer at Microsoft.

Costa first joined Amazon in 2002 and was an employee for more than 15 years, working as a UX designer on the retail website, Amazon Go, and Alexa Shopping.

In 2018, she co-founded the Amazon Employees for Climate Justice group with other employee activists calling on the company to implement a more aggressive strategy for reducing its carbon footprint.

In April, Amazon fired Costa and Emily Cunningham, two of the employee group’s leaders, “for repeatedly violating internal policies,” according to a spokesperson. Amazon later faced pressure from Senate Democrats to explain the rationale for the firings.

In addition to calling for environmental reforms, Costa and Cunningham criticized conditions for Amazon’s warehouse workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to being terminated, Amazon warned Costa and Cunningham that they could be fired for violating the company’s external communications policy.

Amazon Employees for Climate Justice lead the crowd in songs and chants in September 2019. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg)

In a post on LinkedIn, Costa said “I look forward to my next challenge with a company whose climate goals set a high bar for corporate climate responsibility.”

Microsoft last year set a goal of becoming carbon negative by 2030.

Amazon meanwhile has promised to become net carbon neutral by 2040, and in fall 2019 started the Climate Pledge, an effort to get corporations to join it in committing to climate goals. It also launched its $2 billion Climate Pledge Fund and bought the rights to rename Seattle’s KeyArena to Climate Pledge Arena. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos separately established the $10 billion Bezos Earth Fund, now led by former World Resources Institute President Andrew Steer.

Employee activism at major tech companies including Amazon, Google and Microsoft is a growing trend, pushing large employers to take a stand on political and environmental issues.

“Demanding our corporations behave as well as any good citizen, is not only reasonable, it is necessary — and should never result in retaliation or be career limiting,” Costa said in her post. “My story proves it’s possible to take these risks, have great impact, and still thrive (it is a privilege to be able to do this, not everyone has this level of safety). I will — as should we all — continue to advocate that our corporations be the best they can be — not just for short-term profits, but for the future, our planet, and our children.”

— Former Sprint CEO and French businessman Michel Combes stepped down from F5 Networks’ board of directors.

Combes had served on the board since 2018. There are now nine members on the board of F5, a Seattle-based application security and delivery company.

According to an SEC filing, Combes received more shareholder votes “against” his election than votes in favor “solely because of his attendance record and not as a result of his performance as a director.” The filing cites Combes role in Sprint’s $26.5 billion merger with T-Mobile that closed in 2020 as having an impact on his attendance, as well as travel restrictions stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Combes was CEO of Sprint from 2018 to 2020, and was previously CEO at Altice N.V.

Anna Collins. (JetClosing Photo)

— Seattle startup JetClosing announced former Amazon leader and ex-Bulletproof 360 president Anna Collins as its new CEO. She is taking over from Daniel Greenshields, who led JetClosing since it launched in 2016. The digital home closing service also closed an $11 million Series B round. Read the story.

— Northwest health insurance provider Regence BlueShield announced Claire Verity as its new market president, replacing Tim Lieb who departed after four years in the role.

Verity was most recently CEO of the Pacific Northwest states for UnitedHealthcare and she spent more than two decades with UnitedHealth Group, the largest health carrier in the United States.

— Silverback Therapeutics added Repare Therapeutics Chief Medical Officer Maria Koehler to its board of directors. The Seattle biotech company, which is developing therapies using monoclonal antibodies to target cancer, went public in December.

— Vancouver, B.C.-based electric motorcycle maker Damon Motors added Jaques Clariond and Howard Wu to its board of directors.

The four-year old startup, which launched its flagship HyperSport motorcycle at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in 2020, also announced a $30 million funding round and $20 million in motorcycle preorders.

Clariond is a managing partner at New York-based private investment office Baudpont. Wu is the global head of telecom and the GM for Quanta Cloud Technology in the United States.

— Bend, Ore.-based entrepreneur Matt Kern was named CTO and president of cryptocurrency platform Makara. Launched in January, Makara is the latest crypto startup co-founded by Seattle startup vet Jesse Proudman who is also co-founder and CEO of cryptocurrency company Strix Leviathan.

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