Zuckerberg: New Facebook COO will be organization czar

q&a The social-networking site's CEO talks to CNET News.com about its new hire of Google veteran Sheryl Sandberg.

q&a On Tuesday, Facebook announced that it had hired six-year Google veteran Sheryl Sandberg as its chief operating officer, a big move as the hot social network attempts to convince the Valley that it's here to stay and slated to keep growing fast.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg had a few minutes to chat on the phone about Sandberg's new role at the company.

The 23-year-old CEO insisted that Sandberg isn't a pure replacement for outgoing executive Owen Van Natta . From what it sounds like, her role will be significantly more extensive. Not surprisingly, she's going to be in charge of keeping things running smoothly--and probably keeping Facebook's young executives in line , too.

Do you think this is going to help advertiser confidence?
Mark Zuckerberg: The reason why we did this is primarily to scale all of our different business operations. Advertising is definitely one piece of that, and Sheryl has a lot of experience there. But the primary reason why we did this is just because Facebook is scaling very quickly, and if we want to reach our goal, which is to help everyone in the world communicate more efficiently, we need to build an organization that's going to grow and scale globally. And someone like Sheryl, who has experience doing this, is going to be a tremendous asset to us in doing that.

Sheryl Sandberg is the latest in a handful of high-profile Google employees hired at Facebook (i.e. Benjamin Ling, Gideon Yu). Are we seeing a "Google-ization" of Facebook here?
Zuckerberg: I think there are a lot of really interesting companies out there, and different experiences that people have before they joined here. (Sandberg) is really the only senior executive at the company who's come from Google so far. Gideon (Yu) was at Google for a very short period of time after YouTube was sold to Google, but that's not his primary experience.

What will be the first area where we see Sandberg's influence and expertise at Facebook?
Zuckerberg: I think it's going to be subtle in a lot of ways because the nature of operations is that you're scaling an organization and powering other people. It's not that Sheryl is going to be doing all these things herself, but Facebook already has 500 employees and it's scaling very quickly, and I think it's just going to go a lot more smoothly with someone who's talented like her here.

How will her role be different from Owen Van Natta's role as chief operating officer and then chief revenue officer?
Zuckerberg: Well, they were different roles. Owen, as chief revenue officer, was mostly focused on direct sales, which is what we have now, and business development. He was just focused in different areas. I wouldn't view this as really a replacement there, as other people have characterized it. Owen was doing that role, and he wanted to be a CEO, and I think Owen did great work here and I'm supporting him in doing that. With bringing in a COO, we just decided it was the right time for him to go and do that. Sheryl's role is going to be managing sales and business development but also a handful of other things.

So there's going to be all the different sales channels, direct and inside and online sales, and human resources, and marketing, communications and public policy...Sheryl will be in charge of all these different operations, and our consumer operations, the user operations group. It's a large organization for someone to oversee, and she's going to be primarily responsible for scaling that organization and scaling those operations.

What do you expect Facebook's employee head count to be at the end of 2008?
Zuckerberg: We have our projections that say we will probably get very near, maybe over a thousand, but it really just depends. We're hiring very aggressively just in terms of finding as many talented people as we can, and right now we're having a lot of success in doing that. So I think there's a good chance that we'll continue to grow very quickly this year, but I think over the long term in order to meet our goal just in terms of building this communication system that helps everyone in the world communicate more efficiently, that's going to require building a substantial business, and probably a lot of people all over the world, and we're going to need an organization, a set of operations that can do that. Sheryl's going to be really critical to helping us do that.

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About the author

Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.

 

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