Yesterday, Facebook announced the hire of a new chief operating officer, Google vp Sheryl Sandberg. The New York Times, which buried the story on p. 6 of the Business Section, argued that Facebook’s 23-year-old CEO Mark Zuckerberg was “following the Bill Gates model and holding the top post.”
But you have to wonder how long Zuckerberg will follow the Gates model. He clearly wants to hold on to the reins and he may grow into the role of being a true CEO. But my gut tells me that the company and its investors will bring in a more seasoned exec to take the company public, if and when it goes public. Sandberg, while highly respected and successful, has never been a CEO before and has never taken a company public. And with so much at stake, you’d think the company would want to have someone in the role who’s done it before.
The Wall Street Journal, which gave the story huge play on p. 1, got Zuckerberg to admit that the CEO job “is hard.” Last December, the Journal’s Vauhini Vara reported that Zuckerberg held a meeting with Roger McNamee, a powerful Silicon Valley investor who Zuckerberg considers to be a mentor. During the meeting, Zuckerberg complained about the pressures he felt as a CEO, asking McNamee: “Is being a CEO always this hard.”
That one admission is another sign that Zuckerberg, however brilliant he is as a technologist and visionary, is probably not up to the task of running a multi-billion company with thousands of employees. What did he expect? That management would be any easier than slinging code? The comment just sounds naive.
I see Sandberg’s hire as more of a replacement upgrade for Facebook’s previous COO, Owen Van Natta, who recently left the company to pursue opportunities as a chief executive somewhere else. Van Natta was a former Amazon exec, and he did a fine job helping to grow the company and build a great brand. But Sandberg, the vp for Google’s global online sales and operations, is the perfect person to take the company to where it needs to go next–to create a advertising and marketing model that scales into the billions of dollars.
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