When Sheryl Sandberg first joined Facebook in 2008, she was often referred to as the “adult in the room” that could help co-founder and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, then just 24 years old, turn it into a company Wall Street could trust.
Nearly a decade-and-a-half later, Sandberg announced her impending departure Wednesday after fulfilling that job description as chief operating officer. She was a key force in developing the advertising business that is now the bulk of the revenue for a company worth more than half a trillion dollars, fostering relationships with big advertisers and small businesses as the social-media powerhouse spread its tendrils around the globe.
As she leaves, however, Zuckerberg and the company he has rechristened Meta Platforms Inc.
are still not to be trusted. And after Facebook’s boy king announced in a Facebook post that he will not attempt to install an executive in a similarly powerful role, investors and users alike should be worried about the future of a company attempting to force its way to a prominent position in what Zuckerberg believes will be the next generation of the internet.
Zuckerberg has been the subject of criticism for many years, for the worrisome corporate structure that gives him total control of the company as well as for Facebook’s many missteps, ranging from poor moderation of harmful content to compromising users’ privacy to a host of other issues.
More recently, Zuckerberg has been driving the company to go all-in on the “metaverse,” spending billions in the latest attempt to make virtual reality happen. But without the right-hand executive who was a grounding influence on him in the early days of Facebook, why should investors trust Zuckerberg to be able to properly monetize that effort?
Zuckerberg said he will replace Sandberg in the fall with product executive Javier Olivan, but said that he does not expect to replace Sandberg in the company’s infrastructure, and it is not clear how much influence Olivan will have.
Sandberg is not blameless for the problems at Facebook. After the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Zuckerberg blamed Sandberg and her teams for the fallout from Facebook’s role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, according to the Wall Street Journal. But at the very least, she ran the company like a business, instead of the cool tech laboratory that Zuckerberg seems to think he is in charge of and owns, while having little thought about the ramifications of his experiments.
Many Meta investors have held their noses while continuing to hold the stock, admitting that while many elements of Facebook and Instagram are odious at times, the fat profits and strong revenue growth allow them to ignore its problematic issues. That revenue was in large part due to Sandberg’s efforts, so without her, investors have to decide whether the company is going to be worth the stench in the future.