Meta Platforms COO Sheryl Sandberg, whose close partnership with CEO Mark Zuckerberg powered the growth of the world’s biggest social network, is leaving the company after 14 years, she announced in a Facebook post.
The announcement initially sent the social media firm’s shares down 4 per cent, but the stock was nearly flat in after-hours trade.
Sandberg’s departure marks an end of an era for Facebook-owner Meta, which is shifting its focus toward hardware products and the “metaverse” after years of scandals over privacy abuses and the spread of conspiratorial content on its platforms.
The second-in-command to founder Zuckerberg, she is one of the most visible executives at the company and the lead architect of its often-criticised ads business model.
“When I took this job in 2008, I hoped I would be in this role for five years. Fourteen years later, it is time for me to write the next chapter of my life,” she wrote.
Chief growth officer Javier Olivan will take over as chief operating officer, Zuckerberg said in a separate Facebook post, although he added that he did not plan to replace Sandberg’s role directly within the company’s existing structure.
“I think Meta has reached the point where it makes sense for our product and business groups to be more closely integrated, rather than having all the business and operations functions organised separately from our products,” he said.
Olivan has worked at Meta for more than 14 years and has led teams handling Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger.
Sandberg said in her post that she will continue to serve on Meta’s board after leaving the company in the fall.
When asked about her next steps, she told Reuters she was focusing on philanthropy at a “critical moment for women”.
“We’ve hired so many great leaders. I feel really good about that. The next leadership team is in place to take the company forward,” she said, mentioning chief business officer Marne Levine and president of global affairs Nick Clegg by name.
Sandberg has been a staunch defender of Facebook, arguing that the company was learning from its mistakes and honing its systems to better police against harmful content.
She told Reuters last year that she and Zuckerberg had a responsibility to fix systems that had failed, while rejecting reports that she was losing power at the company as Zuckerberg took a more active role in her traditional areas of responsibility.
“People love headline about corporate drama, and I think it’s fair to say they particularly love headlines about sidelining women,” she said in the January 2021 interview.
Sandberg’s tenure covered both Facebook’s original settlement with the US Federal Trade Commission in 2011 for privacy violations and a subsequent blockbuster $5 billion settlement for violations of the earlier deal.
She and Zuckerberg were among those that then-commissioner Rohit Chopra said should have faced more investigation for their roles in the company’s behaviour.
Under her leadership, the company was buffeted by revelations in 2018 that UK consultancy Cambridge Analytica had improperly acquired data on millions of its US users to target election advertising.
She courted more criticism when she told Reuters early last year that rallies by rioters such as the January 6 attack on the US Capitol were largely organised on other platforms, although researchers had identified similar activity on Facebook as well.
Whistleblower Frances Haugen late last year accused the social media giant of repeatedly prioritising profit over clamping down on hate speech and misinformation, and said her lawyers had filed at least eight complaints with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.
Haugen worked as a product manager on the civic misinformation team at Facebook.
In 2019, Sandberg acknowledged that the world’s largest social network needed to win back public trust after facing multiple scandals for violating its users’ privacy.
Prior to joining Facebook, Sandberg was VP of global online sales and operations at Google, chief of staff for the US Treasury Department under former President Bill Clinton, a management consultant with McKinsey & Company, and an economist with the World Bank.
A Harvard University graduate, Sandberg is the author of several books, including the 2013 feminist manifesto ‘Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead’.
- Reporting by Katie Paul in Palo Alto ; additional reporting by Gina Chon and Diane Bartz in Washington, Sheila Dang in Dallas and Akash Sriram in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur and Alistair Bell, of Reuters.