If a head needs to roll at Facebook, it won’t be Zuckerberg’s

There’s a been a lot of provocative chatter over the past month about whether Facebook’s board of directors should replace CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg.

There was this L.A. Times story. And about the same time, I received several pitches from experts eager to discuss the wisdom (or lack of wisdom) such a move would entail.

So let’s be clear: Zuckerberg won’t be replaced, and what’s more, probably shouldn’t be. The whole discussion is a non-starter because Zuckerberg is the board. He controls the majority of votes, due to the pre-IPO arrangements he made with investors. After eight years of doing things his way, he’s not going to simply step aside because a few pundits or investors say so.

But even if that were an option, it seems that people calling for Zuckerberg’s head are focused on the wrong target here. Depending on the reason someone believes there needs to be a change at Facebook, there are two other executives whose roles should put them in the firing line:

Sheryl Sandberg and David Ebersman.

It’s natural that people want to lay the blame for everything that has happened in recent months at the feet of Zuckerberg. He is, after all, the founder and CEO. And he has never been widely loved, either by the public or big investors. So, he’s become the target of their frustration.

But put aside emotion for a moment. There are two main issues that have people calling for change. They are either steamed about the bungled IPO. Or, they are skeptical about Facebook’s business, especially its future revenue potential.

Zuckerberg’s operating method has been abundantly clear. He wants to focus on product. Period. He didn’t want to deal with this other stuff. So he hired two extremely well-regarded people to handle it for him. He delegated.

Facebook ditched its previous CFO and hired Ebersman from Genentech specifically because they wanted someone with experience at a big public company. It was Ebersman’s job to guide Facebook through the IPO process. To be clear, there appears to be plenty of blame to go around for the problems that hit Facebook’s IPO. Whether it’s the banks, the stock exchange or Facebook.

But in the end, if you have to point the finger at someone from Facebook, it has to be Ebersman. This was his responsibility.

The tougher call is Sandberg. From the moment she was hired by Zuckerberg, she attained near-icon status. She has become not just one of the most powerful women in tech, but also one of the most respected and liked.

Yet as chief operating officer, it’s Sandberg’s role to run the business side of things. She is supposed to be figuring out the business model that will spin the ridiculous amounts of information Facebook has about its users into gold.

So far, the company has not leveraged that data as much as many of us thought they would. I think that may yet happen. But certainly the shift to mobile is complicating that. And in any case, it seems to have investors spooked.

Still, if you believe the business is not what it should be, you have to look in Sandberg’s direction.

To be clear, I’m not advocating that Facebook get rid of any of these three executives. If Sandberg were to leave, or be forced out, I think widespread panic about Facebook’s future would ensue.

Ebersman could probably be eased out with less fanfare. But it would be hard to do that without it being interpreted as a tacit admission that the IPO was the disaster that critics claim it was.

In the end, we can most likely expect the status quo at the top of Facebook. The only way the company can turn around the negative perceptions at this point is to simply deliver the revenue gains and growth investors crave. It will take several more quarters before we know whether Facebook can generate the numbers that justified the enormous hype over its IPO.



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  • They COULD fire Mark Z. But he could sure cause an awful lot of trouble with his 51% share of the billions in stock.