Time for Sheryl Sandberg to lean out of Facebook

By Rob Cox
March 26, 2014

By Rob Cox
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

The time has come for Sheryl Sandberg to lean out of Facebook. Not because the social network’s chief operating officer has done a poor job – quite the contrary. She was the adult supervisor as Mark Zuckerberg’s dorm room creation became a $165 billion enterprise. The founder is now doing his own thing, as his latest acquisition shows. For Sandberg, that makes him more of a liability.

Sandberg joined Facebook in its infancy, when Zuckerberg shuffled in flip-flops and sweatpants through the company’s temporary offices off Palo Alto’s University Avenue. The arrival of a proven Google executive brought a professional flourish – and more. Sandberg had also worked as chief of staff to the U.S. Treasury secretary, she held a Harvard MBA, and her resume even included some McKinsey fairy dust and World Bank credibility.

Zuckerberg was prone to erratic decisions, like radically altering Facebook’s privacy policies, at a fragile stage in the firm’s growth. Sandberg melded a corporate approach with Zuckerberg’s hacker culture. That comforted Facebook’s financial backers and allowed the company to sell ads without upsetting users. The largest ever technology initial public offering followed, making Sandberg a billionaire.

The Facebook founder and chief executive may still be unpredictable, but he’s no longer a kid. With voting control of the company, he doesn’t have to listen to his COO – or even his board of directors. The $19 billion purchase of texting service WhatsApp was hatched by Zuckerberg. Wednesday’s $2 billion punt on Oculus VR, a maker of virtual reality headsets, looks a similarly one-man effort. The Oculus purchase could turn out to be visionary, but on mundane strategic and financial logic it’s a head-scratcher.

These deals and other potential Zuckerberg decisions create a risk for Sandberg. She has lately carved a reputation exhorting women to “lean in” and pursue their ambitions, and she has written about the need for women to assert themselves as leaders. “We have to admit something that’s sad but true: men run the world,” she told Barnard graduates three years ago.

The irony is that, despite Sandberg’s impressive career, she has yet to emerge as the boss herself. She has the record, charisma and connections – including with President Barack Obama – to aim higher, even at the U.S. presidency. But first she needs to run something herself. That’s not going to happen at Facebook.


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Why would Sandberg’s credentials translate to validity as a presidential candidate (presumably Democratic)? Romney’s didn’t. She is now richer than Romney. Her worldview that it’s sad men run the world is at least mildly antagonistic to half the voting population. Agreed she should strike out on her own as a CEO. An observation here. Some who prove astoundingly competent in an executive team position fail miserably as the leader of a team. Even if they exort others to step into leadership.

Posted by wildbiker | Report as abusive

Makes him more of a liability? Because he dropped several billions on acquiring companies? I am not a fan of overspending on buying up talent, but if that is the sole reason that Sanberg needs to leave, then what about Yahoo’s Mayer? Joke is, even though Facebook has been making some progress, Yahoo got 0 after spending billions on acquiring companies, just like Zuck. Funny thing is, I don’t see anybody criticizing the Yahoo CEO when everybody else is jumping at Zuck for doing almost the exact same thing. *golf clap to the “analysts”*

Posted by wintdkyo | Report as abusive

Definitely agree. Sheryl Sandberg has an absolutely stellar record of achievement and her unique background is unmatched anywhere else. Certainly, the decision is up to her, but with Mark Zuckerberg taking the reins at Facebook it might be best for her to search out the next up-and-coming technology. A struggling startup would be unbelievably lucky to have her on their team.

Posted by AneeshD | Report as abusive