In surprise move, Sheryl Sandberg leaves Facebook after 14 years

Updated June 1, 2022 at 10:58 PM ET

Sheryl Sandberg, one of Silicon Valley’s most prominent executives who helped establish Facebook as a global tech juggernaut, is stepping down as chief operating officer of Meta, Facebook’s parent company.

Sandberg, 52, made the surprise announcement in a Facebook post on Wednesday, writing that: “When I took this job in 2008, I hoped I would be in this role for five years. Fourteen years later, it is time for me to write the next chapter of my life,” Sandberg wrote. “I am not entirely sure what the future will bring – I have learned no one ever is.”

Sandberg will stay on Meta’s board of directors, according to the company. Javier Olivan, another executive at the company, will takeover as chief operating officer when Sandberg departs the role this fall.

She plans to spend her time focusing on philanthropy and her foundation. This summer, she noted in her post, she will be marrying television producer Tom Bernthal.

Sandberg was a pivotal figure in helping grow Facebook from a free social network dreamed up in a Harvard dorm to one of the most dominant social media platforms in the world, with nearly 3 billion users around the globe.

Often referred to as “the adult in the room” during the early days of Facebook’s rise, she served as a seasoned No. 2 at company alongside co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, who was leading the company in his early 20s. Sandberg arrived at Facebook after years of working as a manager in advertising at Google.

“He was just 23 and I was already 38 when we met, but together we have been through the massive ups and downs of running this company,” Sandberg wrote in her departure note on Wednesday.

At Facebook, Sandberg oversaw advertising strategy, hiring, firing and other management issues. Zuckerberg once said she “handles things I don’t want to,” he told the New Yorker in 2011. “She’s much better at that.”

Outside of the company, she became a public face of Facebook, sitting for interviews amid crises and schmoozing policymakers weighing regulations that would affect the company.

Sandberg is leaving at a time when Facebook, which rebranded last year as Meta, attempts to reinvent itself as a hardware company focused on the virtual reality-powered metaverse. Unlike the social network, the metaverse-related business does not rely on advertising, which was one of Sandberg’s areas of expertise.

Beyond serving as the No. 2 at Facebook, Sandberg has become a celebrity author, penning “Lean In,” a 2013 book that became a touchstone in the push for greater gender equality in the workplace. After her husband Dave Goldberg died suddenly in 2015, she wrote another book on how to navigate grief called “Option B.”

At Facebook, Sandberg served as the public face of the company as it reeled from crises over the years, including Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and in the months following the 2018 Cambridge Analytica scandal over how the data-mining firm had inappropriately used Facebook user data for political purposes.

Her exit comes two months after a controversy in which Sandberg reportedly urged a British tabloid to back away from reporting on her former boyfriend Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick.

The story, which was never published, was reportedly on court filings showing that an ex-girlfriend of Kotick’s had received a temporary restraining order against him after harassment allegations.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Sandberg’s advisors worried the story could hurt Sandberg’s image as an advocate for women, so a team including Facebook employees worked to have the story killed.

Facebook reviewed whether Sandberg’s actions violated company rules, but the findings have not been made public. A spokeswoman for the company would only say the investigation has been completed.

A Meta spokeswoman said Sandberg’s departure is unrelated to reports about the Kotick incident.

“She was not pushed out or fired,” Meta spokeswoman Nkechi Nneji said.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Transcript :

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Today, one of the tech industry’s most prominent executives, Sheryl Sandberg, announced that she is stepping down as chief operating officer of Meta. That’s the parent company of Facebook. Sandberg has been credited with helping to build Meta from a small startup into one of the world’s most powerful companies. And we should just note real quick that Meta pays NPR to license NPR content.

All right. NPR’s Bobby Allyn joins us now with more. Hey, Bobby.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: All right. So tell us more – Sheryl Sandberg stepping down after – what? – a really long time at this company, yeah?

ALLYN: Yeah. It was – really was a surprise announcement. She said today – appropriately enough, in a Facebook post – that she is leaving the company after a 14-year run. It becomes official this fall.

Now, like you were saying, I mean, she has been extremely influential to this company, and she’s going to stick around a little bit. She’ll be on the company’s board, which suggests she’s leaving on good terms. And to underscore that, a Facebook spokeswoman told me that she is not being fired or pushed out.

CHANG: You used the phrase extremely influential. I mean, how important would you say she was to the rise of Facebook?

ALLYN: Oh, hugely. I mean, remember – Facebook was started as this little website by Mark Zuckerberg in a Harvard dorm. It, back then, was, you know, this free-to-use social networking site. And as it became increasingly popular, Zuckerberg, then just in his early 20s, hired Sheryl Sandberg. She was an experienced advertising executive at Google, and she came on board as sort of the adult in the room, right? She handled big-picture issues like advertising, strategy and company culture. Hiring and firing decisions fell to Sheryl Sandberg – as Zuckerberg once put it, all the things I don’t want to do, right?

CHANG: (Laughter) Lucky him.

ALLYN: Yeah, exactly. Sandberg – she really just had a central role in making Facebook one of the biggest advertising companies in the world.

CHANG: Well, people may recall that Sandberg coined the phrase lean in. I have a copy of her book. Bobby, can you just remind us what a sensation that book initially caused?

ALLYN: Yeah, it really was. In 2013, when it came out, “Lean In” was a bestseller. It, you know, pushed for women to be more assertive in the workplace. Sandberg herself described it in lofty terms, saying it was a feminist manifesto. And it did set off a national debate about gender equality in the workplace. Since then, it has been criticized, and it’s found a fair share of detractors. Folks said it didn’t really live up to some of the ethos of the #MeToo movement.

But she used this book as a way to, like, vault a career as a celebrity of sorts. She had, you know, a lot of fans after this book, and she was able to use that popularity to deliver speeches around the world. She was, you know, schmoozing with policymakers who were weighing regulations that would affect Facebook. And, you know, Facebook knew, and they gave her a role that let her lean in, I guess, to her skills as being a, you know, persuasive and powerful spokesperson for the company.

CHANG: Yet all of her business success – I mean, it did come with a fair amount of scrutiny, right? Can you talk a little bit about that piece of this?

ALLYN: Yeah. Now, it does seem eons ago now, but the Cambridge Analytica scandal – you remember that? – you know, over the millions of Facebook users’ data that was used to target voters during the 2016 presidential campaign – inside the company, she took a lot of blame for how that crisis unfolded. And over the years, she’s been in the spotlight over various other scandals that have engulfed the company.

Most recently, she found herself in hot water after the Wall Street Journal reported that she lobbied a British newspaper to have an unflattering story killed about her ex-boyfriend, Bobby Kotick, the longtime executive of video gaming company Activision Blizzard. Facebook has launched an investigation into whether Sandberg misused company resources in that episode. And Facebook says now the whole thing is unrelated to Sandberg’s departure.

CHANG: That is NPR’s Bobby Allyn. Thank you, Bobby.

ALLYN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF J DILLA SONG, “THINK TWICE”) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.