Sheryl Sandberg – The Real Secret to Facebook's Success?

Sheryl Sandberg - The Real Secret to Facebook's Success?

With the $10 billion IPO, company valuation of about $100 billion, Mark Zuckerberg latest legendary gazillionaire, etc.   So we’re going to take a closer look at what’s behind this success story, whether you admire it or not.  The truth is truly interesting and applicable to your business ambitions and your investments.

Don’t read this book.  Even though they want you to.  It’s a popularization of the Facebook story, approved by Facebook, feeding the growing mythology surrounding the company.  There will certainly be better-researched books in the future.  One thing interesting is that this book is half a discussion about the social impact of Facebook.  How many websites have had books written about their social impact?

This is exactly what Mark Zuckerberg intended.  From what we are told, Mark wanted nothing more than a website that would change the world.  Make money?  Not really his concern, at least so they say.

Yet the company went public with a valuation approaching $100 billion.  Myth or not, bubble or not, permanent or not, there is something valuable to learn from this phenomena.  This quote from The New Yorker, July 11, 2011 tells the truth.  I’ve underscored some key passages:

In 2007, the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, knew that he needed help. His social-network site was growing fast, but, at the age  of twenty-three, he felt ill-equipped to run it. That December, he went to a Christmas party at the home of Dan Rosensweig, a Silicon Valley executive, and as he approached the house he saw someone who had been mentioned as a possible  partner, Sheryl Sandberg, Google’s thirty-eight-year-old vice-president for global online sales and operations. Zuckerberg hadn’t called her before (why would someone who managed four thousand employees want to leave for a company that had barely any revenue?), but he went up and introduced himself. “We talked  for probably an hour by the door” Zuckerberg recalls.

It turned out that Sandberg was ready for a new challenge. So for six weeks they met for dinner once or twice a  week at Sandberg’s six-bedroom home. Sandberg, who goes to bed early and starts  e-mailing at 5 A.M., often had to usher the  nocturnal Zuckerberg out at midnight. “It was like dating,” says Dave Goldberg,  Sandberg’s husband and the C.E.O. of the online company SurveyMonkey. Sandberg says they asked each other, “What do you believe? What do you care about? What’s the mission? It was very philosophical.” Social networking seemed to have better prospects than newspapers and she didn’t want to move to D.C., so she gently  turned down Donald Graham.

That winter, Sandberg met with Eric Schmidt, who was then the C.E.O. of  Google, about her desire to do something else at the company. He proposed  promoting her to chief financial officer, a job she rejected because she didn’t think it gave her enough management responsibility.  She asked about becoming the chief operating officer, but Google already had a troika making  decisions—Schmidt and the two founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin—and they  didn’t want to further complicate things.

By February of 2008, Zuckerberg had concluded that Sandberg would be a perfect fit. “There are people who are really good managers, people who can manage a big organization,” he says. “And then there are people who are very analytic or focused on strategy. Those two types don’t usually tend to be in the same person. I would put myself much more in the latter camp.” Zuckerberg  offered her the job of chief operating officer.

Sandberg began work at Facebook in March, 2008 asking questions and listening. “She walked up to hundreds of people’s desks and interrupted them and said, ‘I’m Sheryl Sandberg' recalls Chris Cox, the vice-president of product, who sits next to Zuckerberg. “It was this overt gesture, like, ‘O.K., let your guard down. I’m not going to hole up with Mark. I’m going to try and have a  relationship with you guys.’ ”

Sandberg set up twice-a-week meetings with Zuckerberg, on Monday mornings and Friday afternoons. Today, her workstation, in a cavernous room, is a few feet away from his and the three other senior executives who share connected desks:  Cox; Mike Schroepfer, the chief engineer; and Bret Taylor, the C.T.O. “She builds trust because she’s honest,” Cox says. “People can be intimidated by Mark. Sheryl just cuts right through that.”

Zuckerberg says he’s grateful that Sandberg “handles things I don’t want to,” such as advertising strategy, hiring and firing, management, and dealing with political issues. “All that stuff that in other companies I might have to do.  And she’s much better at that.”

Read more in The New Yorker

There’s so much more to say about Sheryl Sandberg, such as her track record as Chief of Staff for Lawrence Summers, Secretary of the Treasury under President Clinton.  It’s her leadership style and working style that interest me.  Quoting from The Guardian:

“Sheryl always believed that if there were 30 things on her to-do list at the beginning of the day, there would be 30 check marks at the end of the day,” Summers recalled. “If I was making a mistake, she told me. She was totally loyal, but totally in my face.” She repaid that loyalty when Summers got into hot water for suggesting innate differences between men and women might be one reason that fewer women succeed in science- and maths-based careers. Sandberg wrote that Summers had been “a true advocate for women throughout his career”.

Key takeaway: There is a direct connection between diversity of leadership skills in the C-suite and business success. Frequently (but not always) this corresponds to diversity of gender in the C-suite. So the real secret to Facebook’s current success: Sheryl Sandberg and the willingness of Mark Zuckerberg to partner with her