Sandberg’s legacy: “Facebook wouldn’t be Facebook without Sheryl”

Sheryl Sandberg intended to spend just five years at Facebook when she joined in 2008 as Mark Zuckerberg’s right-hand man. Instead, she stayed for 14 years, becoming one of Silicon Valley’s most recognizable and polarizing figures.

When she steps down as chief operating officer of Facebook, now known as Meta, this fall, she will leave a mixed legacy. On the one hand, she built an image as a seasoned leader and female role model who helped grow a $538 billion company by supercharging its digital advertising machine.

But Sandberg has also become a lightning rod for critics, accused of trying to sweep moderation and privacy controversies under the rug as Facebook went from scandal to scandal after the 2016 US election.

“Facebook wouldn’t be Facebook without Sheryl,” said David Jones, chief executive of The Brandtech Group and former chief executive of advertising group Havas. “She built the foundation that made Facebook what it is – good and bad.”

For Sandberg and Zuckerberg, the moment marks a crossroads, as the powerhouse duo, who have gone their separate ways in recent years, now seek to remake their images separately after years of scrutiny.

Zuckerberg focused on his vision for the metaverse, at a time when Facebook’s stock price is crashing, growth is slowing and competition is increasing. Sandberg, a committed Democrat, said she intended to focus on her family and her philanthropic efforts, amid speculation she might enter politics. She will remain on Meta’s board of directors.

Sandberg is also leaving under a cloud following a Wall Street Journal report alleging she pressured the Daily Mail to drop negative coverage of her former boyfriend and Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby. Kotick. Meta said the matter is now closed.

Separately on Thursday, the Journal reported an investigation into her use of company resources to plan her upcoming wedding to marketing manager Tom Bernthal. A Meta spokesperson said of the report: “None of this impacted his personal decision to leave.”

Sandberg is credited with transforming a scrappy start-up run by around 20 “tech bros” into an enviable digital advertising empire during the first half of his tenure. She proclaimed that she was “put on this planet to make organizations evolve” – and she did. According to Facebook’s initial public offering filings, in 2009 the company’s sales were $777 million. In 2021, Meta generated $117 billion in revenue.

His success, in part, is due to his meticulous attention to detail and his prowess as an accomplished networker, the associates say. Marketers describe her as spending more time with advertising executives than rivals, such as her former employer Google, and hosting lavish dinner parties at her Menlo Park home to woo clients. She would listen to, and then act on, their demands, they said.

“She was instrumental in getting Mark Zuckerberg to take the advertising community very seriously,” Jones said.

Sandberg has also surrounded herself with close allies, mostly women, from her previous roles at Harvard, Treasury and Google – dubbed “Friends of Sheryl Sandberg”, or FOSS. Many have seen the FOSS phenomenon as Sandberg championing women in line with his manifesto of corporate feminism, Bend over; others lamented the creation of such cliques.

“When you had it on your back it was incredibly empowering, but if you don’t have Sheryl’s blessing it can be very limiting,” said a former senior executive.

Sandberg’s ability to work in the room attracted business and was crucial to the creation of Facebook’s public policy and communications team. She personally took on the role of chief lobbyist, meeting with regulators and lawmakers while Zuckerberg focused on product innovation.

As Silicon Valley boomed, members of Congress actively pursued meetings with Sandberg ahead of the 2016 election in an effort to embrace the tech sector, according to former colleagues. But it did not last.

Her public profile as Zuckerberg’s second-in-command left her in the crosshairs – in front of lawmakers, customers and the public – as the company was hit by a series of scandals following the 2016 election.

“Sheryl was always the soft power with the phone calls and the charm offensive when Facebook faced a crisis,” an ad agency executive said.

The advertising business model she pioneered has also come under scrutiny. Critics and civil society groups have argued that toxic and provocative posts are rewarded in an effort to grab users’ attention, while the collection of user data for targeting purposes also contributes to breaches. private life.

Sandberg also developed a reputation for failing to identify issues, then becoming defensive when they erupted into scandals, seeking to control press narratives and ward off regulators.

“It’s not about what she did – it’s about the response. A lot of those things were unintended consequences. But then you have to turn around and act,” another official said. The advertisement.

This so-called delay, deny and deflect approach was applied to its handling of the Cambridge Analytica scandal as well as revelations from Russian disinformation campaigns around the 2016 election, according to multiple reports.

Sometimes it escalated into finger pointing. The New York Times in 2018 reported that under Sandberg’s watch, Facebook hired Definers Public Affairs, a Republican-leaning consultancy, to spread misinformation about competitors and critics.

More recently, she caused a backlash for downplaying the idea that Facebook played a role in the events that led to the storming of the US Capitol on January 6, arguing that it was “largely” organized on d other platforms.

Some have expressed sympathy for his position; Zuckerberg, after all, is the ultimate decision maker. “She felt stuck around these things, which continued to increase the ‘deviation’ approach,” a former senior employee said. “She could never come out of the crouching position because there is only crisis after crisis after crisis to come for the company.”

His departure did not come out of nowhere, according to insiders. In recent years, Sandberg had retreated from the limelight, and her influence waned, as tensions with Zuckerberg simmered.

“Year after year, the rift between Sheryl and Mark and what they thought should be done from a content moderation standpoint has certainly widened,” the former employee said, adding that the position of freedom of Zuckerberg’s expression clashed with Sandberg’s desire for stricter restraint.

In his missive on Sandberg’s departure, Zuckerberg said Javier Olivan, the company’s chief growth officer, will take on a “more traditional COO role” in which he will be “internally and operationally focused.”

Although Sandberg is a “superstar who has defined the role of COO in his own way,” Zuckerberg wrote that “Meta has reached the point where it makes sense for our product and business groups to be more tightly integrated, rather than separate. ‘to have all business and operational functions organized separately from our products’.

The reshuffle cements Zuckerberg’s power as he takes on many who reported directly to him.

Zuckerberg called the move “the end of an era.” But with that, he also signaled his intention to start a new one – one in which Sandberg’s previous role, with all its power and magnitude, will no longer exist.

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