Who will replace Sheryl Sandberg after 14 years as Meta COO?

2 Jun 2022

Sheryl Sandberg at the 2013 World Economic Forum. Image: Michael Wuertenberg/swiss-image.ch (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Javier Olivan has been named as successor to the title but leadership at Meta has been overhauled amid this major exit.

In what Mark Zuckerberg has described as “the end of an era”, Meta COO Sheryl Sandberg announced that she will be leaving the business after 14 years.

She is departing her role at the company formerly known as Facebook to focus more on her foundation and philanthropic work, though she will remain on Meta’s board of directors.

For now, she is transitioning her direct reports and plans to exit the company this autumn.

‘To say it hasn’t always been easy is an understatement. But it should be hard’

Sandberg was first introduced to the company when it was simply The Facebook, a social network for US college students. She joined in 2008 when co-founder Zuckerberg was 23 and she was 15 years his senior. She came with experience working in US government and Google, and expected to be in her new role for five years.

Sandberg has since been the Meta CEO’s right-hand woman. “Sitting by Mark’s side for these 14 years has been the honour and privilege of a lifetime,” she said.

She is the architect of Facebook’s advertising model, which transformed the free-to-use social network into a revenue-generating engine. Zuckerberg also credits Sandberg with having forged the management culture at Meta, and teaching him how to run a company.

“I’m going to miss running this company with Sheryl,” Zuckerberg wrote in his statement. “But I’m glad that she’ll continue to server on our board of directors so we can benefit from her wisdom and experience even after she transitions out of her day-to-day management role in the coming months.”

Sandberg leans out, Olivan leans in

Zuckerberg revealed that he doesn’t plan to replace Sandberg’s role in Meta’s existing structure. “I’m not sure that would be possible since she’s a superstar who defined the COO role in her own unique way.”

While chief growth officer Javier Olivan has been named as Sandberg’s successor to the COO title, Zuckerberg said “this role will be different from what Sheryl has done”.

Olivan will lead Meta’s integrated ads and business products as well as its infrastructure, integrity, analytics, marketing, corporate development and growth teams.

“It will be a more traditional COO role where Javi will be focused internally and operationally, building on his strong track record of making our execution more efficient and rigorous,” said Zuckerberg.

A very recent addition to Meta’s C-suite, Olivan joined Facebook prior to Sandberg, in 2007, and is credited with driving the platform’s international growth, particularly in Latin America. He is a far less public persona than his predecessor, with a private Instagram account and a Facebook profile that, until yesterday, had been dormant since 2018.

“I don’t anticipate my role will have the same public-facing aspect, given that we have other leaders at Meta who are already responsible for that work,” wrote Olivan in his statement, namechecking president of global affairs Nick Clegg and chief legal officer Jennifer Newstead.

Olivan is also vice-president of cross-Meta products and infrastructure and so has experience across multiple teams at the company.

“While I’ve worked extensively with many of our strategic external partners in my current role and will continue to do so, I’ve primarily been behind the scenes, focused on working with our teams to build products that serve billions of people and millions of businesses around the world,” he said.

New era for Meta management

Zuckerberg hopes these leadership changes will see product and business teams at the company become more closely integrated, and Olivan will be champion of this cause.

To facilitate these changes, chief business officer Marne Levine will report to Olivan, creating a closer link between the ads and business platform product group and the Meta business group. Molly Cutler, Meta’s VP of strategic response, will also join Olivan’s team under head of product Naomi Gleit.

In other changes, Instagram COO Justin Osofsky will now report to Meta chief product officer Chris Cox. Osofsky will also be tasked with building a content team working across the business and product teams. This team will be focused on developing AI-led recommendations engines for users on Facebook and Instagram.

Head of people Lori Goler and chief diversity officer Maxine Williams will now be reporting to Zuckerberg.

“This team is filled with exceptionally talented people who have poured their hearts and minds into building products that have had a profound impact on the world,” said Sandberg.

Of course, the impact of Facebook and its parent company Meta has not always been seen as positive. Sandberg’s legacy at the company includes the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the use of Facebook as a channel for foreign interference in US elections and the planning of the 6 January US Capitol riots, and accusations that the company’s failure to take down inflammatory posts facilitated the genocide of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

“The debate around social media has changed beyond recognition since those early days,” Sandberg acknowledged in her statement.

“To say it hasn’t always been easy is an understatement. But it should be hard. The products we make have a huge impact, so we have the responsibility to build them in a way that protects privacy and keeps people safe.”

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Sheryl Sandberg at the 2013 World Economic Forum. Image: Michael Wuertenberg/swiss-image.ch (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.