How Meta changes after Sheryl Sandberg's farewell

How Meta changes after Sheryl Sandberg's farewell

Five years. This is the time Sheryl Sandberg thought she was spending at Facebook, now Meta, when she assumed the role of chief operating officer (COO) and right-hand man of Mark Zuckerberg in 2008. Enough time to calibrate the company's bold culture, making it sustainable, to build a highly successful advertising business, but also to establish itself as an international reference point for women in top positions. After that she would leave the company, perhaps to run for elections or run a giant like Disney.

Sandberg, however, announced her resignation on June 3, fourteen years after her arrival. For an ambitious corporate superstar like Sandberg, fourteen years in a position - other than top management - is an eternity. Most observers thought she would leave Meta much sooner, either due to the company's reputation collapsing following incessant privacy and content management scandals, or simply because she tired of having to defend it all the time. Instead, Sandberg stayed long enough to see the company name change as well.

With the elegant prose and 1,529 words of the farewell post with which she communicated her decision - more suitable for an essay on Medium but faithfully posted on Facebook - Sandberg thanked his colleagues profusely and highlighted all the positive things the company has done for users and small business owners, even going so far as to mention a Polish woman selling animals stuffed animal on the platform. Like every other public communication from her, even the farewell post has been studied in detail, to the point that one would hardly say that the company at the center of the message is among the most criticized in the world. But the most critical aspect of the news was not Sandberg's letter, but Zuckerberg's subsequent post.

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The agreement with Zuckerberg WiredLeaks, how to send us an anonymous report Sandberg's mandate to Facebook / Meta was intended to be obscured by the agreement entered into with Zuckerberg at the time of his entry into the company. While referring to Zuckerberg, the then 23-year-old CEO of the company granted Sandberg tremendous autonomy in various areas of the company, areas not related to the products in which he had less interest. Letting Sandberg take care of selling the advertisements was a sensible move. However, the agreement with Zuckerberg required the coo to also cover communications, lobbying, regulations and other non-engineering areas. At one point, Facebook's head of security reported to the head of legal affairs, who in turn reported to Sandberg. When things went downhill after the 2016 US election, it took some time for the troubles in Sandberg's world to reach Zuckerberg. The consequences were disastrous. Zuckerberg then told me that he did not consider the agreement as a mistake, but as a necessity: "It would have been impossible, having no experience in all these sectors, to internalize all the things that could have involved running a company", I explained.

In his post Zuckerberg expressed gratitude and spent himself in praise for his outgoing coo. But while Sandberg's message painted his mandate in the rosiest tones imaginable, Zuckerberg's statement represented a giant corporate course correction. The CEO wrote that Sandberg's departure marked the end of an era, then announcing changes in Meta's organization designed to ensure that such an era never happens again. Sandberg's successor, Javier Olivan, will take on "the role of coo in a more traditional way," he added. Olivan, who has cut his teeth caring for the rapid growth of the company, will not be managing entire sections of Meta alone as Sheryl initially did.

What happens in Meta Some of these transformations had already been set in motion. The first major change came last year, when Zuckerberg handed responsibility for policy and communications to Vice President Nick Clegg, who previously reported to Sandberg. The chief legal officer, Jennifer Newstead, has also started reporting directly to Zuckerberg. With Sandberg's resignation - and despite the praise - Zuckerberg, however, dismantled the organization that the former coo had created, taking over more directly. Human resources manager, Lori Goler, will also report to him, as will Maxine Williams, head of diversity.

Zuckerberg rightly points out that most of these people were recruited by Sandberg, adding, however, that only one "superstar" like her could have taken on such a responsibility. Nevertheless - adds Zuckerberg - the terms of their collaboration were not sustainable. "Meta has reached the point where it makes sense that product and business groups are integrated more closely, rather than having all commercial and operational functions organized separately from our products", yes reads in Zuckerberg's post.

Sandberg - who will gradually leave Meta and will not leave the company definitively before next autumn - says he does not know what his future will be, beyond the intention to intensify her philanthropic activities.

Bumpy path But Sheryl Sandberg's tragedy - if a similar term can be used to describe a famous billionaire executive - is that everyone imagined she would use the Facebook post as a springboard towards a more ambitious role, and not that it would go away just before the arrival of the regulatory bodies, without a precise plan in mind. A few years ago I analyzed the various hindrances that had hindered her anticipated rise, and I had also had the opportunity to submit my theory to her.

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Arrow It was the last interview I did with Sandberg for my book on Facebook. We had already seen each other several times, but the interviews had not been satisfying. Sandberg had been very cautious in previous interviews, to which she had devoted her customary thirty-minute intervals. I had insisted on having a two-hour session, an unheard-of request for the people who ran her agenda. Incredibly, however, she accepted.

On that occasion I exposed the following theory to her: after joining Facebook in 2008, she was ready to leave the company after an initial public offering (Ipo, which precedes entry on the stock exchange) of success, ideally to enter politics. But the 2012 hypo turned out to be a disaster, bringing legal aftermath and recriminations. It was not a good time to leave. By the time she and Zuckerberg were able to turn the company into a giant, Sandberg was struck by a tragedy: the sudden death of her husband, Dave Goldberg. Understandably, then, she decided to stay on Facebook as she went through grief. Meanwhile, the vacant Senate seat that many thought they aspired to went to current US Vice President Kamala Harris. Then came the 2016 election and the Facebook woes. Sandberg felt compelled to stay with the company until her reputation and her Facebook reputation recovered. But while profits were growing, the company's problems showed no sign of abating. There was simply no good time to leave.

Sandberg has partly rejected my theory, specifically arguing that Goldberg's death was not a "moment he decided to stay" at Facebook , but a three hundred and sixty-degree cataclysm. Furthermore, she insisted that in her plans there was a post in the US administration rather than a seat in the Senate. Sandberg, however, acknowledged that, in general, my theory was correct: at various times, it was reflections on the suboptimal timing of her goodbye that kept her staying. At the time of our conversation, March of 2019, she had been working at Facebook for over a decade and she felt an enormous responsibility to stay and try to get the company right with Zuckerberg. "It will take time. Years," she explained to me.

Facebook / Meta may not be right yet, but Zuckerberg has decided it's time to move on and focus on the metaverse. Regrouping around this new mission meant dismantling what remained of the agreement made with Sandberg, which today, after 14 years of successes and missteps, has its way out. Her rehabilitation may begin.

This article originally appeared on US.

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