CEO DailyCFO DailyBroadsheetData SheetTerm Sheet

How should we remember Sheryl Sandberg’s Facebook tenure? It’s complicated

June 2, 2022, 4:49 PM UTC

The technology business makes it virtually impossible for any revolutionary to build a perfect legacy.

Steve Jobs set Apple on course to becoming the world’s most valuable company, shipping hundreds of millions of treasured iPhones, yet he often treated others with contempt and willingly exploited substandard working conditions in China. Jeff Bezos built Amazon into a behemoth, reimagining the world of e-commerce and logistics, but his company decimated many small businesses while pushing its employees to the brink.

The same principle ultimately applies to Sheryl Sandberg, arguably the most famous and important woman to grace Silicon Valley in the 21st century.

Sandberg, who announced Wednesday that she will depart Facebook parent Meta in the fall after a 14-year run with the social media company, will go down in the annals of modern history as yet another frustratingly complex figure.

From a strictly business sense, Sandberg ranks among the great trailblazers of our time. As CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s right-hand woman and the engine behind Facebook’s moneymaking ad machine, Sandberg guided the company to its current heights: $118 billion in annual revenue. While her power has waned in recent years—as detailed Thursday by Fortune’s Jeremy Kahn and Jonathan Vanian—her work built the foundation of Facebook’s immense stature.

As one of the few females in a Big Tech C-suite, Sandberg influenced countless women across the globe. She captured the zeitgeist in the early 2010s with her book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, a clarion call for empowerment and equity in the office. That message lives on through structured support networks for women organized around the Lean In brand.

Sandberg also faced personal tragedy—the sudden death of her husband, Dave Goldberg, in 2015 at the age of 47—with inspiring grace. Her willingness to speak openly about grief helped normalize the healthy expression of emotion among high-profile executives.

And yet…

Sandberg will inevitably go down as complicit in the excesses and negligence of Facebook. Her tenure as chief operating officer coincided with the rise of microtargeted advertising, the Cambridge Analytica data privacy scandal, the amplification of hate speech and false information.

While Sandberg bolstered her progressive bona fides with Lean In, her tome has since lost some luster, weathered by its inattention to structural inequality. (Michelle Obama, in 2018: “It’s not always enough to lean in, because that s–t doesn’t work all the time.”)

Sandberg’s integrity, which lent her an air of authority during the heyday of Lean In, also has come under increasing scrutiny. Most notably, a report by the Wall Street Journal, which detailed allegations that she sought to kill a news article about a temporary restraining order against her then-boyfriend, undercut her image as a champion for women.

Taken together, the highs and lows of Sandberg’s reign at Facebook place her in much the same air as her male contemporaries. 

She’s an undeniably brilliant figure, someone who shrewdly navigated the business and politics of Big Tech, paving the way for generations to follow. She also deserves the criticism resulting from the personal and professional compromises that fueled her ascent.

In the end, Sheryl Sandberg couldn’t quite have it all. Maybe that’s too much to ask of anyone in her position.

Want to send thoughts or suggestions for Data Sheet? Drop me a line here.

Jacob Carpenter

NEWSWORTHY

A new No. 2. Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Wednesday that longtime lieutenant Javier Oliván will take over as chief operating officer following the departure of Sheryl Sandberg later this year. Oliván, who joined Facebook in 2007 as head of international growth, currently serves as Meta’s chief growth officer. Zuckerberg said the 44-year-old will operate in a “more traditional COO role” than Sandberg, who oversaw a sprawling portfolio that shrank over the past few years.

Down just a notch. Microsoft trimmed its current-quarter earnings and revenue guidance Thursday, as global economic weakness rattles foreign exchange rates, the Wall Street Journal reported. The computing company pruned its expected earnings range by a few cents, placing it between $2.24 per share and $2.32 per share. Microsoft’s stock price dipped 1% in midday trading Thursday.

A done deal. Oracle announced Wednesday that it has secured all necessary regulatory approvals to complete its $28.3 billion acquisition of digital medical-records firm Cerner, Bloomberg reported. The software company plans to close the all-cash deal on Monday, allowing it to move forward with ambitions for the health care technology field. Oracle agreed last December to pay $95 per share for Cerner, a roughly 20% premium on the share price before news of the potential deal broke.

Don’t ape this guy. Federal prosecutors charged a former OpenSea executive Wednesday with insider trading, in what is believed to be the first such case tied to digital assets, the Washington Post reported. Prosecutors alleged that Nathaniel Chastain, who worked as OpenSea’s head of product, used anonymous accounts to buy dozens of non-fungible tokens ahead of their debut on the NFT marketplace’s home page, then sold the assets for multiple times what he paid once they became highly visible on the platform. Chastain resigned from OpenSea after online sleuths uncovered the trades and the company launched an investigation.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

A sick plot. FBI Director Christopher Wray disclosed Wednesday that Iranian hackers nearly took advantage of America’s most vulnerable residents—ailing children—to launch a particularly malevolent cyberattack last year. The Associated Press reported that Wray provided details of the attempted hack on Boston Children’s Hospital, which was thwarted, during a speech calling for greater cybersecurity collaboration between the public and private sector. (Full disclosure: My fiancée is an employee of Boston Children’s.) While Wray didn’t discuss the potential motive or offer an extensive account of the Iranian-linked plan, he said the case illustrated the recurring threats from foreign actors.

From the article:

The speech took place as the FBI continues to combat ransomware attacks from criminal gangs, a continuing concern for U.S. officials despite the absence of crippling intrusions in recent months. Wray emphasized the need for private companies to work with the FBI to thwart ransomware gangs and nation-state hackers.

“What these partnerships let us do is hit our adversaries at every point—from the victims’ networks, back all the way to the hackers’ own computers,” Wray said.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

As layoffs rock tech firms, experts share how to dismiss workers with empathy—and preserve brand reputation, by Paige McGlauflin

Netflix has warned about a crackdown on password sharing. It’s looking like an empty threat, by Tristan Bove

HP has a big sustainability hit with at least $3.5 billion in realized revenue: “This is only a small slice of what we know to be the case,” by Aman Kidwai

An Elon Musk takeover could end Twitter’s permanent work-from-home policy, by Nicholas Gordon

Investigate EA’s FIFA: Ultimate Team, groups urge FTC as loot-box backlash spreads, by David Meyer

Elon Musk flaunts Tesla’s perfect score on LGBTQ equality index, saying his company respects “personal choices,” by Eamon Barrett

BEFORE YOU GO

Eh it ain’t so. Tim Hortons, the Canadian coffee chain best known (in my household, at least) for horrendous java, is in some hot water. VICE reported Wednesday that regulators in Canada accused the Great White North institution of breaking national privacy laws by conducting extensive geolocation tracking of users who downloaded its app. Investigators said Tim Hortons monitored customer movements to see whether they might have switched to different coffee vendors, with plans to use that information to tailor targeted advertising. Tim Hortons isn’t Double Double–ing down on the loony practice, declaring that it has shelved some tracking and improved transparency around privacy terms and conditions. Hopefully it’s the last we hear “aboot” this. 

This is the web version of Data Sheet, a daily newsletter on the business of tech. Sign up to get it delivered free to your inbox.