People visit the M&M store in Times Square in July in New York City.
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A former Mars executive claims that a family member and the company's board of directors "stamped" him on the foot and told him he would regret his decision to join JAB Holdings.
The allegation is part of JAB Holdings' counter-argument against a trade secret lawsuit filed by Mars in federal court in Washington, DC in May. A defendant in the lawsuit stole more than 6,000 documents from Mars and turned them over to JAB. The most recent volley, first reported by the Financial Times, is a rare look behind the scenes at the two privately owned companies.
Calling the lawsuit "vengeful and unnecessary," Szarzynski said that while he still had some Mars documents in his possession, he never used them for his own benefit or intended to harm his former employer. Today he is a partner at JAB, the Reimann family's investment arm, and serves as Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer at Pret Panera, one of its business units.
"Mars is a privately owned family business and the Mars family reacts with brutality to every little thing they perceive," he wrote in a trial on August 20. "They were upset that after 24 years at Mars I had the boldness to leave."
Szarzynski claimed that Frank Mars, who shares a name with the company's founder and sits on the board of directors, "deliberately" stepped on the foot after one of his final presentations to the Mars board in December 2018.
"When Mr. Mars stared at me aggressively, his foot on mine, he warned me, 'Tell your new boss we will never forgive him for taking people like you from us and fighting him aggressively," claimed he.
Mars said in a statement to CNBC that the arguments "are an attempt to divert attention from wrongdoing and paint a misleading picture". The company is confident that the lawsuit will succeed.
"Mr. Szarzynski and JAB do not deny these facts," said the company. "We tried to solve this problem amicably, but unfortunately couldn't. JAB was not ready to agree to a comprehensive agreement."
In its original complaint, Mars also accused the former executive of cost fraud. Szarzynski estimated the expense couldn't be worth more than a few hundred dollars and said that he offered Mars repayment for any mistakes. He claimed the company rejected the proposal.
Szarzynski also alleged that Mars falsely withheld incentive rewards from him valued at over $ 1 million. In addition, he argued that the dispute should be settled through arbitration with Mars or in Belgian courts, where he lives and previously worked for Mars.