Becoming a Tech Billionaire : Sheryl Sandberg, COO at Facebook

The most powerful woman in Silicon Valley and one of the youngest self-made female billionaires, Sheryl Sandberg has taken over the male-dominated world of tech.

Since arriving at Facebook as chief operating officer in 2008 – poached from Google following a courtship-like process of bi-weekly dinners with Mark Zuckerberg – Sheryl Sandberg has grown what was a revenue-free start-up social-network with a handful of employees and seventy million users, into a commercial giant that grossed almost $6 billion in 2013, that counts thousands of bright and talented employees, and claims a user base of over one billion people, a number that is ever-growing. Her transformation of Facebook, and its record high shares, has also seen Sandberg take a position on the Forbes billionaire list, making her one of the youngest women to ever do so, and one of only 24 who earned their wealth themselves.

Sandberg Pre-Facebook

Pre-Facebook, Sandberg, who has two degrees from Harvard, built her early career in public service, climaxing with the position of chief of staff to Treasury Secretary Larry Summers. She also held positions at the World Bank, and as a management consultant at McKinsey & Company. But in 2001 she took a new direction, joining Google, where she helped launch their philanthropic arm, and built and managed online sales of advertising and publishing products as VP of Global Online Sales and Operations.

Making Facebook Profitable

But after seven years, and without a suitable promotion laid out at Google, she made the move to Facebook, where she has since created and executed the strategy that has successfully scaled up and expanded the Facebook presence across the world. So far, she has guided the company to their billionaire-creating IPO, and controlled sales, marketing, business development, human resources, public policy, and communications. As Zuckerberg’s second-in-command, and the self-named grown-up in the room, she has also taken on the role of Facebook’s public image, confronting complaints and managing privacy concerns.

But her key success has been in answering the question as to how Facebook could make money, rather than simply being a really cool tech-site. Setting a financial path reliant on advertising, her guidance has positioned Facebook’s ad sales as second to only Google in the US. And at the same time, she has also turned one of Facebook’s early weaknesses, mobile, into one of their greatest strengths, monetising the smartphone better than anyone else: in 2012 Facebook earned more US advertising revenue on mobile than any other publisher (with an 18.4% share of the market), and the last quarter’s earnings saw mobile claim 53% of total revenue.

Sandberg Leaning In

In answering these key questions, Sandberg has become one of the few successful women in tech and at the top of business. This is not something which has passed her by, and instead Sandberg has claimed a role as a leading voice in gender equality. In 2010, she gave a powerful TEDWomen talk (which has now been viewed more than four million times), in which she comments: “I believe our world would be a better place if half our companies and half our countries were run by women”. Her follow up book, “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead” (2013), comprehensively analysing why so few positions of economic and political power are held by women, spent nearly a year on the New York Times Bestseller list. Sony Pictures has just acquired the film rights. And so this woman at the top – a place where women are significantly underrepresented – has made it her cause to be visible. 

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