The acceptable face of Facebook
Social skills for a social network
Jul 21st 2011 | SAN FRANCISCO | from The Economist print edition
Few corporate types can charm hardened hacks so effectively. Sheryl Sandberg, the number two at Facebook, the world’s biggest social network, has been glad-handing reporters with spectacular results. The New Yorker says she may “upend Silicon Valley’s male-dominated culture”. New York magazine puts her in line for Secretary of the Treasury. Bloomberg Businessweek speculates that she might one day be the president of the United States.
很少有商界人士能像Sheryl Sandberg似地懂得讨老油条似的媒体的欢心。身为最大社交网络——Facebook的二当家的谢勒尔 桑德格最近一直忙着亲切会见记者们。这些记者都对她赞不绝口：纽约客称她可能会改变木硅谷男性主导的风气，纽约周刊将她与财务部长相提并论，彭博商业周刊推测她可能有一天会成为美国总统。
Her sudden lionisation is well-timed. Facebook is expected to go public soon, perhaps this year. It may be the biggest internet flotation ever, with a market capitalisation of more than $100 billion. Investors might be less bullish if the 27-year-old Mark Zuckerberg, the founder, were in sole charge. Many consider him somewhat socially awkward.
Ms Sandberg, a 42-year-old former Google executive, joined Facebook in 2008; without her, insiders say, it would not have grown from a cash-bleeding start-up to a titan with estimated sales of $2 billion last year. She complements Mr Zuckerberg well. He is technologically brilliant and knows it. She is a good listener with a keen financial brain (she was once an aide to Larry Summers, the then treasury secretary). She provides adult supervision and a professional face to a firm growing so powerful and so quickly that it is bound to clash with governments. Were Mr Zuckerberg to be grilled by senators who have not yet grasped the concept of e-mail, he might let his irritation show. Ms Sandberg would not have that problem.
Since Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman left HP and eBay, female bosses of big Silicon Valley firms have been rare. Ms Sandberg is doing her part to change this by encouraging women to be more assertive and by building an “old girls’ network”. Thanks to her efforts Facebook has more female executives than the average technology firm. (Strangely, though, she does not sit on its board.)
Speculation about her future is inevitable. But for now she is unlikely to move. Facebook has far to go before it fulfils its founder’s mission to become the “social utility” of the online world and Google has launched a rival service. It may take a Google veteran to fight back.