Policy

Sheryl Sandberg's career-defining moments

From "Lean In" to Jan. 6 and everything in between.

Sheryl Sandberg

Meta has defined Sheryl Sandberg’s career thus far, but she plans to “write the next chapter of her life” after leaving the company.

Photo: Antoine Antoniol/Getty Images for Cannes Lions

There was a time early on at Facebook when pretty much every other company in Silicon Valley was on the hunt for its own “Sheryl.” It was shorthand for a female executive who could transform a company from a scrappy, bro-ey startup to a fast-growing business, as Sheryl Sandberg had famously done with Facebook.

But all these years later, as Sandberg prepares to leave the company after 14 years, the mythology surrounding her — and what it means to be a “Sheryl” — has become decidedly more mixed.

She is both responsible for making Meta one of the most valuable companies in the world through its ad business and also responsible for normalizing the vast privacy intrusions that enable that business model. She is the most recognizable female executive in America and an inspiration to innumerable women around the world, as well as the person who has wielded her power behind the scenes to protect Facebook — and her own reputation — at all costs.

The evolution of Sandberg’s legacy can be traced back to key moments in Facebook’s history.

2008: Dividing duties with Zuck

One of the early decisions that would wind up having a domino effect on Facebook’s future was the way Mark Zuckerberg and Sandberg decided to divvy up responsibility. Building products was — and remains — Zuckerberg’s primary passion. Sandberg, by contrast, had always worked on Google’s ad business and had ties to Washington, having worked at the Treasury Department under former Secretary Larry Summers.

In an interview with Steven Levy for the book “Facebook: The Inside Story,” Sandberg described the division of labor as being “very easy — he took product and I took the rest.”

“The rest” wound up including not just the business operations, but Facebook’s communications and relationship with D.C. As Facebook’s public relations and political reputation began to take a beating nearly a decade later, a lot of the blows would wind up landing on Sandberg.

2010: ‘Lean In’

In 2010, Sandberg delivered the TED talk of all TED talks. The kind that makes one of the world’s most intractable issues — bias against women — seem utterly fixable in 15 minutes or less. The talk, titled “Why we have too few women leaders,” urged women to take a seat at the table, get their partners to pitch in and, above all, to lean in to promotions and opportunities and whatever else women sacrifice in anticipation of starting a family.

The talk became the basis of a book released in 2013, which spawned a global movement, with “Lean In” circles — groups of women supporting women — popping up in 188 countries around the world. “Lean In” made Sandberg a household name and, for a time at least, shielded her from some of the scrutiny that would begin to come Facebook’s way.

2012: Facebook’s IPO

When Facebook went public in 2012, it made Sandberg, who is now a billionaire, very, very rich. But more than that, it cemented Sandberg’s reputation as a business genius. Facebook went from losing money in 2008, the year Sandberg joined, to making money hand-over-fist, setting the company up for a public-market debut that, despite early stumbles, quickly saw Facebook’s stock price soar.

Sandberg got a lot of the credit for making that happen. (The New York Times quoted one Stanford engineering professor at the time, who called Sandberg the “Justin Bieber of tech.”) Facebook had the product, the fast-growing audience and the buzz, but not the discipline to make money off of it all until she got there.

2015: Tragedy strikes

Sandberg’s life was forever changed in 2015 with the sudden death of her husband, SurveyMonkey CEO Dave Goldberg. That tragedy not only temporarily affected Sandberg’s day-to-day work at Facebook, but it created a new outlet for her advocacy: this time, focused on dealing with grief.

She wrote at length about how she coped in the days and months after his death, including what helped her and what didn’t, and channeled it all into another self-help book called “Option B,” which deals with lessons on resilience and facing adversity.

2017: Breaking ranks on FOSTA/SESTA

Facebook’s fortunes in Washington were already in trouble by the fall of 2017. The 2016 election had started a backlash on the right over alleged censorship of conservatives on the platform. On the left, folks were already starting to blame fake news and targeted ads by the Trump campaign for Hillary Clinton’s loss.

Into this environment came FOSTA/SESTA: a bipartisan package of bills that would whittle away at Section 230 protections for the first time in the name of stopping sex trafficking. The tech industry hated the bill, but Sandberg broke ranks with her fellow Silicon Valley executives, coming out in favor of a modified version of the bill in November 2017. Facebook’s backing is widely viewed as having pushed FOSTA/SESTA over the line. For Sandberg, the moment was also defining, revealing the ways she worked behind the scenes to burnish the company’s reputation in Washington.

Early 2018: Cambridge Analytica scandal

Outside of Facebook, Zuckerberg bore most of the blame for allowing so much Facebook user data to be scooped up and sold to Cambridge Analytica for political purposes. It was Zuckerberg who appeared first in front of Congress to apologize for Facebook’s missteps.

But inside the company, Cambridge Analytica was reportedly a turning point in Zuckerberg and Sandberg’s relationship, with Zuckerberg personally blaming his No. 2 for being too slow to address that and other issues at the company, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Fall 2018: Delay, deny, deflect

A November 2018 exposé in The New York Times, published in the aftermath of both the Cambridge Analytica debacle and the Russian troll scandal, focused attention on Sandberg’s alleged misdeeds like never before. According to the Times, Sandberg had tried to limit the amount of detail Facebook shared about Russian intrusion and even reprimanded the company’s then-head of Security for sharing information about it with Facebook’s board.

That story also exposed Facebook’s efforts to push negative coverage of competitors through an opposition research group and investigate ties between George Soros and Facebook’s critics. Sandberg, who initially attempted to distance herself from that work, eventually accepted blame for it, writing, “I want to be clear that I oversee our Comms team and take full responsibility for their work and the PR firms who work with us.”

The story started a new round of rumblings about whether Sandberg’s days at Facebook were numbered.

2021: The Capitol riot

Through the Trump years, Sandberg, a known Democrat and Clinton supporter, took a less central role in representing Facebook in Washington. But as the company’s second in command, she was still called on to answer for Facebook’s failure to prevent the Stop the Steal movement from spreading before the Jan. 6 riot.

In an interview with Reuters, she pushed blame onto other platforms, saying, “These events were largely organized on platforms that don’t have our abilities to stop hate, don’t have our standards and don’t have our transparency.”

Sandberg’s reluctance to accept any responsibility for the riot struck people both inside and outside of Facebook as a sign of how little the company and its most senior executives had learned about their impact on the world.

2022: Defending Bobby Kotick

Sandberg’s most recent scandal came to light just months ago, when the Journal reported that she twice intervened in reporting by The Daily Mail on a since-retracted temporary restraining order that had been taken out against her ex-boyfriend Bobby Kotick. The Journal reported that Meta employees had been involved in trying to squash the story and that the ordeal had sparked an internal investigation of Sandberg.

It’s unclear what that investigation found, though a Meta spokesperson told the Journal that Sandberg never “threatened the MailOnline’s business relationship with Facebook in order to influence an editorial decision.”

Meta has defined Sandberg’s career thus far, but she plans to “write the next chapter of her life” after leaving the company this fall. Whether she likes it or not, Facebook will continue to be a main character.

Owen Thomas contributed reporting.

Fintech

Judge Zia Faruqui is trying to teach you crypto, one ‘SNL’ reference at a time

His decisions on major cryptocurrency cases have quoted "The Big Lebowski," "SNL," and "Dr. Strangelove." That’s because he wants you — yes, you — to read them.

The ways Zia Faruqui (right) has weighed on cases that have come before him can give lawyers clues as to what legal frameworks will pass muster.

Photo: Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post via Getty Images

“Cryptocurrency and related software analytics tools are ‘The wave of the future, Dude. One hundred percent electronic.’”

That’s not a quote from "The Big Lebowski" — at least, not directly. It’s a quote from a Washington, D.C., district court memorandum opinion on the role cryptocurrency analytics tools can play in government investigations. The author is Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui.

Keep ReadingShow less
Veronica Irwin

Veronica Irwin (@vronirwin) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol covering fintech. Previously she was at the San Francisco Examiner, covering tech from a hyper-local angle. Before that, her byline was featured in SF Weekly, The Nation, Techworker, Ms. Magazine and The Frisc.

The financial technology transformation is driving competition, creating consumer choice, and shaping the future of finance. Hear from seven fintech leaders who are reshaping the future of finance, and join the inaugural Financial Technology Association Fintech Summit to learn more.

Keep ReadingShow less
FTA
The Financial Technology Association (FTA) represents industry leaders shaping the future of finance. We champion the power of technology-centered financial services and advocate for the modernization of financial regulation to support inclusion and responsible innovation.
Enterprise

AWS CEO: The cloud isn’t just about technology

As AWS preps for its annual re:Invent conference, Adam Selipsky talks product strategy, support for hybrid environments, and the value of the cloud in uncertain economic times.

Photo: Noah Berger/Getty Images for Amazon Web Services

AWS is gearing up for re:Invent, its annual cloud computing conference where announcements this year are expected to focus on its end-to-end data strategy and delivering new industry-specific services.

It will be the second re:Invent with CEO Adam Selipsky as leader of the industry’s largest cloud provider after his return last year to AWS from data visualization company Tableau Software.

Keep ReadingShow less
Donna Goodison

Donna Goodison (@dgoodison) is Protocol's senior reporter focusing on enterprise infrastructure technology, from the 'Big 3' cloud computing providers to data centers. She previously covered the public cloud at CRN after 15 years as a business reporter for the Boston Herald. Based in Massachusetts, she also has worked as a Boston Globe freelancer, business reporter at the Boston Business Journal and real estate reporter at Banker & Tradesman after toiling at weekly newspapers.

Image: Protocol

We launched Protocol in February 2020 to cover the evolving power center of tech. It is with deep sadness that just under three years later, we are winding down the publication.

As of today, we will not publish any more stories. All of our newsletters, apart from our flagship, Source Code, will no longer be sent. Source Code will be published and sent for the next few weeks, but it will also close down in December.

Keep ReadingShow less
Bennett Richardson

Bennett Richardson ( @bennettrich) is the president of Protocol. Prior to joining Protocol in 2019, Bennett was executive director of global strategic partnerships at POLITICO, where he led strategic growth efforts including POLITICO's European expansion in Brussels and POLITICO's creative agency POLITICO Focus during his six years with the company. Prior to POLITICO, Bennett was co-founder and CMO of Hinge, the mobile dating company recently acquired by Match Group. Bennett began his career in digital and social brand marketing working with major brands across tech, energy, and health care at leading marketing and communications agencies including Edelman and GMMB. Bennett is originally from Portland, Maine, and received his bachelor's degree from Colgate University.

Enterprise

Why large enterprises struggle to find suitable platforms for MLops

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, and as larger enterprises go from deploying hundreds of models to thousands and even millions of models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

Photo: artpartner-images via Getty Images

On any given day, Lily AI runs hundreds of machine learning models using computer vision and natural language processing that are customized for its retail and ecommerce clients to make website product recommendations, forecast demand, and plan merchandising. But this spring when the company was in the market for a machine learning operations platform to manage its expanding model roster, it wasn’t easy to find a suitable off-the-shelf system that could handle such a large number of models in deployment while also meeting other criteria.

Some MLops platforms are not well-suited for maintaining even more than 10 machine learning models when it comes to keeping track of data, navigating their user interfaces, or reporting capabilities, Matthew Nokleby, machine learning manager for Lily AI’s product intelligence team, told Protocol earlier this year. “The duct tape starts to show,” he said.

Keep ReadingShow less
Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye is an award-winning multimedia reporter digging deep and telling print, digital and audio stories. She covers AI and data for Protocol. Her reporting on AI and tech ethics issues has been published in OneZero, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, Ad Age and Digiday and heard on NPR. Kate is the creator of RedTailMedia.org and is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a book about how the 2008 presidential campaigns used digital media and data.

Latest Stories
Bulletins