On Wednesday, Sheryl Sandberg, Mark Zuckerberg’s top lieutenant at Meta (formerly Facebook), made the shock announcement that she had decided to step down from her role as COO at the social media platform after more than 14 years on the job.
The move is not immediate, and Sandberg has stated that she will work with Zuckerberg over the coming months to offload her direct reports before handing in her badge sometime this fall. While Sandberg will no longer be a Metamate, she will remain on the social media and metaverse company’s board of directors.
Javier Olivan, a 15-year Meta employee and the company’s Chief Growth Officer, has been tapped as Sandberg’s successor. In a Facebook post, he said “you can’t really replace someone like Sheryl; while I’ll have the same title, this will be a different role.” He went on to explain as he will be less of a public-facing COO and focus on “building the company’s reputation for operational excellence and rigor.”
Since her arrival at Meta — at the time, Facebook — in 2008, Sandberg has been credited with the maturation of the social media company’s management and policies. Sandberg has also been a staple on Capitol Hill over the past decade as lawmakers have probed and prodded the Instagram, Messenger, Whatsapp and Oculus-owner for potential anti-competitive behavior, alleged bias in content moderation and the impacts of social media on its users’ mental health.
“To say Meta wouldn't be the company it is today without you is a spectacular understatement,” Nick Clegg, Meta’s recently appointed President of Global Affairs, commented on Sandberg’s announcement. “But if anyone deserves a chance to recharge and regroup, it’s you. 14 years building one of the world’s most remarkable companies is an immense, but exhausting, achievement. It is great that you will still be on the Board so we can continue to benefit from your wisdom and experience.”
On Facebook, the departing executive shared that she is not sure what her next steps will be but that she plans to spend more time focusing on her foundation and philanthropic work. Through the Sheryl Sandberg & Dave Goldberg Family Foundation, Sandberg currently operates Lean In, an initiative based on her synonymous book that is focused on empowering women and promoting gender equality around the world.
The comment section of Sandberg’s status update is bustling with prominent female tech executives, including Meta Chief Business Officer Marne Levine and Instacart CEO Fidji Simo, who voiced the impact Sandberg has had on women in the tech industry. “You've inspired so many of us to reach for more - and to do so unapologetically. I'll never forget the support you gave me in some of my tough times, even as you were going through hardships.” Simo wrote.
In his own comment, Zuckerberg called Sandberg a “superstar” and labeled her departure “the end of an era.” He went on to say, “In the 14 years we've worked together, you've architected our ads business, hired great people, forged our management culture, and taught me how to run a company.”
Sandberg’s departure from Meta’s day-to-day operations comes as the company pivots to the metaverse. What her departure means for the company’s strategy is unclear as she will still be able to provide guidance as a board member. However, her departure and news of an already-anointed successor could lead to an exodus of passed-over executives who had viewed themselves as front runners for the COO role.
In March 2021, Meta’s Chief Revenue Officer, David Fischer, announced his decision to leave, leading to speculation about who would replace him. Levine eventually won the role but the ordeal gave way to the departure of advertising boss Carolyn Everson, who was seen by many as the heir to Fischer’s C-suite role. Everson followed Simo to Instacart.