Mark Zuckerberg’s number 2, with a post on Facebook, announced his resignation from the role of Chief Operating Officer on 1 June. But was it a real surprise? What are the reasons for this choice? And what could happen now?
The next day, as always, the day of questions. Wednesday 1 June, with a post on Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg has announced that he will leave his role to Meta.
A role that – it should be remembered – is almost impossible to overestimate. In the 14 years between his entry into Menlo Park and his release in November, Sandberg was more than just a Chief Operating Officer: right arm of the founder, Mark Zuckerberg, it was she who created the business model that allowed Facebook first, and Meta now, to become one of the largest technological giants on the planet. A business model that consists, primarily, in the collection of user data, in their increasingly accurate profiling, and in the ability to guarantee advertising investors the certainty of being able to get a message to a very precise target. Here you are: that business model is responsible, today, for 97 percent of the company’s revenues.
But why, then, did Sandberg decide to leave Meta? And what does this goodbye mean for the company founded by Zuckerberg?
At the moment, in the words of the protagonists (entrusted, for now, to two posts on Facebook and a comment – that of Zuckerberg himself to the message of his COO), there are no definitive answers: but some clues s. And together with elements that have already emerged in the past, one can try to understand something more about the reasons for this decision.
1. The missing word
Sandberg’s post consisted of 8,467 characters – 1,532 words in all. One notable is missing: metaverse. A curious absence, if we consider that, according to its founder, the future of the company is concentrated (so much so that Zuckerberg has even changed the name of the company he created).
Sandberg spoke at length, in her post, about her arrival at Facebook, her relationship with Zuckerberg, the challenges she faced and won, the belief that Meta will continue to play a positive role for the company: but it is not clear how convinced she was of the new direction indicated by the founder of Meta, nor whether there is a clear path to make profitable what, at the moment, seems a challenge not only complicated, but extremely expensive (in the last quarter, the net loss for Reality Labs, home of the metaverse project , has touched 3 billion dollars: a fifth of the company’s liquidity, notes the Financial Times).
Sandberg also recalled that one of the three promises that Zuckerberg had made to her – and which he kept to the end – was that of being able to sit side by side: but the Wall Street Journal noted how lately we have seen several images of meetings in the metaverse with Zuckerberg. sitting next to his head of technology, Andrew Bosworth. And Sandberg’s avatar, at that table, never was.
2. A paradigm shift
When Sandberg joined Facebook, the company was 4, $ 272 million in revenue, $ 56 million in losses, and a few hundred hires.
Last year, revenue was $ 118 billion, profits were $ 39 billion, hires rose to 77,800, and the number of users using the company’s products jumped to nearly $ 3 billion.
All this was made possible – as we said – by advertising.
But that world – somehow – is about to change: better, it is already doing so, and quickly, as evidenced by the fact that the company’s shares have lost more than 40 percent of their value since the beginning of the year.
The problem, for Meta, is twofold. On the one hand, legislators – primarily the EU with the Digital Services Act – are preparing to limit the possibilities of using data to profile users.
On the other hand, the giants of the web try to anticipate them, creating tools that are more respectful of privacy but able to satisfy advertisers.
Apple has changed the rules of data collection on its operating system, burning tens of billions of dollars right at Meta: and on its side is the fact that everything does not affect its core business, which is not based on advertising. Google is working on the elimination of third-party cookies (the elements that give information about our navigation) from the Chrome browser.
In short: the force field is changing. And Wall Street itself provides, for Meta, one advertising revenue growth of only 6 percentthis year, against an average of +44 percent in the past 10 years. If the model to which Sandberg tied her commitment is radically shifting, and in directions that couldn’t convince her, her COO may have figured it was time for her to leave her.
3 The fallout of scandals
My role in Meta was not one of the most manageable you can imagine, he told a Bloomberg Sandberg. A precise message, with at least a couple of variations.
The first is linked to a sphere – the personal one – to which the manager herself referred in her post: Sandberg announced, for the summer, her marriage to Tom Bernthalmet after the sudden death of her second husband, Dave Goldberg; the desire to focus on the role of mother of an extended family that will contain 5 children; and that of devoting himself more to his foundation and his philanthropic work, which is more important to me than it has ever been given the critical moment we are experiencing, for women.
But the second has to do with what Sandberg has done over the years. At the beginning of their adventure, while Zuckerberg defined how to move fast, break things up his business philosophy, Coo was defined the adult in the room: the experienced, skilled, credible manager, capable of guaranteeing credibility to a company with a future yet to be written, outside of Silicon Valley.
Sandberg had relationships with managers, politicians – and with public opinion. And it was on this line that the great fracture that characterized the years of Sandberg in Meta was created.
Since its arrival, and until 2015, Sandberg has in fact given shape to the phase of greatest expansion, and greatest enthusiasm, of the company.
Since 2015 – the year of the sudden death of her second husband – everything has changed: his return to the company, after a break, coincided with the election of Trump, and the beginning of an uninterrupted chain of scandals and criticisms of Facebook. From Cambridge Analytica to last year’s Facebook Files, the management of antitrust cases and that of user privacy, the aggressiveness of a business model built on profiling and viralitythe inability to find a definitive and convincing balance between freedom of expression and the need for content moderation have represented increasingly uncovered hips: and Sandberg was, for years, at the center of a hot scene.
In Sandberg’s future, according to many observers, there may be a leadership role in another large company – or even politics. But before leaving, whatever the direction, for Sandberg it was necessary to hypothesize a period of detachment, to distance his image from that, by now far from immaculate, of the company that has contributed to making it great.
4. A diminishing role
In his role, Sandberg has to deal daily with figures, data, numbers. He could not escape one of them: the one relating to the number of employees directly reporting to him. The Wall Street Journal, last year, showed how the percentage of employees under Sandberg’s direct responsibility was continuously decreasing, while other managers – and especially the Chief growth officer, Javier Olivanwho will also assume the role of Kos – they saw their power expand.
Of course, Sandberg’s responsibilities remained enormous. But as two chroniclers of the New York Times , Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang, in Facebook. The final investigation (Einaudi 2021), for many of the company’s top executives the feeling now that there are no longer a number one and a number two, but a number one and many others.
The first rising star is that of Olivanin fact: Spaniard, 44 years old, in the company for 15, mind of the acquisition of Whatsapp, his domain will cover advertising, business products, analytics, marketing, infrastructure, growth, analytics, marketing.
And then Chris Coxat the head of the products, Andrew Bosworthin charge of technology, e Nick Clegg, recently became president of global affairs and communications for Facebook. Former British Deputy Prime Minister, hired to be Facebook’s Foreign Minister, he has over time gained more and more ground in internal hierarchies.
the end of an eraZuckerberg noted, on June 1, commenting on Sandberg’s resignation.
And the beginning of another, still to be written.
June 2, 2022 (change June 2, 2022 | 16:44)
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