SAN FRANCISCO — Sheryl Sandberg, the No. 2 executive at Facebook owner Meta, who helped transform his company from startup to digital advertising empire while taking the blame for some of his biggest missteps, is stepping down.
“When I took this job in 2008, I hoped to be in this role for five years. Fourteen years later, it’s time for me to write the next chapter of my life,” Sandberg wrote on her Facebook page on Wednesday.
Sandberg ran Facebook – now Meta’s – advertising company and was responsible for raising it from infancy into a powerhouse of more than $100 billion a year. As the company’s second most well-known face—after CEO Mark Zuckerberg—Sandberg has also become a polarizing figure through revelations about how some of its business decisions for Facebook have helped spread misinformation and hate speech.
Her expertise in public speaking and her seemingly effortless ability to bridge the worlds of technology, business, and politics contrasted sharply with Zuckerberg, especially in Facebook’s early years. As one of the most prominent female executives in the tech industry, she was often criticized for not doing enough for women and others who have been harmed by Facebook’s products. But Zuckerberg has since caught up, training partly for the various congressional hearings in which he has been called to testify to defend Facebook’s practices.
Neither Sandberg nor Zuckerberg gave any indication that Sandberg’s resignation was not her decision. But she also seemed somewhat sidelined in recent years, with other executives close to Zuckerberg, such as Chris Cox – who returned in 2020 as Chief Product Officer after a year-long hiatus from the company – increasingly prominent.
“Sheryl Sandberg had a huge impact on Facebook, Meta, and the wider business world. She helped Facebook build a world-class advertising buying platform and develop groundbreaking ad formats,” said Debra Aho Williamson, an analyst at Insider Intelligence. , the Cambridge Analytica privacy debacle in 2018, and the 2021 U.S. Capitol riots.
And now Meta is “facing a slowdown in user growth and ad revenue that is now testing the business foundation the company is built on,” she said. “The company needs to find a new way forward, and perhaps this was the best time for Sandberg to leave.”
Sandberg will leave Meta in the fall and remain on the company’s board.
Zuckerberg said in his own Facebook post that Javier Olivan, who oversees the core functions of Meta’s four main apps — Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger — will serve as Meta’s new COO. But it will be a different job from Sandberg’s for the past 14 years.
“It will be a more traditional COO role where Javi will be internally and operationally focused, building on his strong track record of making our execution more efficient and rigorous,” Zuckerberg wrote.
Although Sandberg was Zuckerberg’s No. 2 for a long time and even sat next to him — at least before the pandemic — at the company’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California, she also held a very public job, meeting with lawmakers, holding focus groups, and speak out on issues such as women in the workplace and, most recently, abortion.
“I think Meta has reached the point where it makes sense for our product and business groups to be more closely integrated, rather than all business and operational functions organized separately from our products,” Zuckerberg wrote.
Sandberg, who suddenly lost her husband, Dave Goldberg, in 2015, said she’s “not quite sure what the future will bring.”
“But I know I will be focusing more on my foundation and philanthropic work, which is more important to me than ever given the pivotal moment for women,” she wrote, adding that she will also be getting married this summer and that their parenting children an extended family of five children will also be part of this future.
THE ADULTS IN THE ROOM
Sandberg, now 52, first helped Google build what quickly became the Internet’s largest — and most lucrative — ad network. But she left that post to take on the challenge of turning Facebook’s freewheeling social network into a money-making business while also helping mentor Zuckerberg, who was then 23 to 38.
She proved to be just what the then-immature Zuckerberg and the company needed at the right time, helping pave the way for Facebook’s highly anticipated IPO ten years ago.
While Zuckerberg remained Facebook’s visionary and controlling shareholder, Sandberg became the engine of a company powered by a burgeoning digital advertising business that has become almost as successful as the one it helped build around Google’s dominant search engine.
Like Google’s advertising empire, Facebook’s business thrived on its ability to keep its users returning for more of its free service while leveraging its social networking services to learn about its interests, habits, and whereabouts. Of people – a curious model that has repeatedly entangled the company in debates about whether a right to personal privacy still exists in an increasingly digital age.
As one of the top female executives in technology, Sandberg has at times been an inspiration to working women — a role she seemed to embrace with a 2013 bestselling book titled “Lean In Women, Work and the Will Leiden.”
But “Lean In” was immediately criticized. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd called Sandberg a “PowerPoint Pied Piper in Prada Ankle Boots,” Critics suggested she was the wrong person to lead a women’s movement.
She addressed some of that criticism in a forthcoming book about the death of her husband, Dave Goldberg. In 2015, she became a symbol of heartbreaking grief when Goldberg died in an accident while playing sports while on vacation. She became a widow with two children while continuing to help run one of the world’s best-known businesses.
CRACKS IN THE FACADE
In recent years, Sandberg has become a polarizing figure amid revelations about how some of her business decisions for Facebook helped spread misinformation and hate speech. Critics and a whistleblower from the company claim the fallout has undermined democracy and caused serious emotional distress for teenagers, especially girls.
The author of “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism,” Shoshana Zuboff, said Sandberg is as responsible as anyone else for what Zuboff considers one of Big Tech’s most insidious inventions: collecting and organizing data about behavior and preferences. Of social media users. For years, Facebook has shared user data not only with advertisers but also with business partners.
Sandberg did this, Zuboff wrote, “through the artful manipulation of Facebook’s culture of intimacy and sharing.”
Zuboff calls Sandberg the “Typhoid Mary” of surveillance capitalism, the term for taking advantage of the collection of data from social media users’ online behavior, preferences, shared data, and relationships.
Sheryl Sandberg may call herself a feminist, but her decisions at Meta made social media platforms less safe for women and people of color and even threatened the U.S. electoral system. Sandberg had the power to take action for 14 years but consistently chose to do so. don’t.” Shaunna Thomas, the co-founder of UltraViolet, a gender justice advocacy group that has called for Sandberg’s resignation, said in an email commented Wednesday.
Sandberg has had some public missteps at the company, including her attempt to blame Facebook for January 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol uprising. In an interview streamed by Reuters later that month, she said she thought the day’s events were “largely organized on platforms that don’t have our capacity to stop hate, don’t have our standards, and don’t have our transparency.”
However, internal documents revealed by whistleblower Frances Haugen later that year showed Facebook’s own employees were concerned about the company’s halting. They often reversed response to rising extremism in the U.S., which culminated in January 6.
“Haven’t we had enough time to figure out how to manage discourse without allowing violence?” an employee wrote on an internal bulletin board at the height of the January 6 turmoil. “We’ve been fueling this fire for a long time, and it shouldn’t surprise us that it’s now spiraling out of control.”