Facebook plucks new COO from Google's sales ranks

The Palo Alto, Calif.-based start-up hires veteran googler Sheryl Sandberg to replace outgoing Chief Operating Officer Owen Van Natta.

Caroline McCarthy Former Staff writer, CNET News
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.
Caroline McCarthy
2 min read

Facebook announced on Tuesday that it has hired a new chief operating officer to replace the outgoing Owen Van Natta. Starting on March 24, veteran Google employee Sheryl Sandberg will take on the executive role at the social network.

For six years, Sandberg was vice president of global sales and operations at Google, where she helped to grow the company's AdWords and AdSense products, as well as its Google.org nonprofit division.

As part of her new job, according to a statement from the social-networking company, she will "be responsible for helping Facebook scale its operations and expand its presence globally," as well as "manage sales, marketing, business development, human resources, public policy, privacy, and communications."

Sheryl Sandberg, the Google veteran who will be Facebook's new COO. Dan Farber/CNET Networks

Sandberg is also an alumna of both Harvard University's undergraduate college and Harvard Business School; Facebook famously got its start in dorm rooms at the elite Cambridge, Mass., institution.

Hiring an experienced Silicon Valley executive is no surprise on Facebook's part. Founder Mark Zuckerberg has yet to reach his 24th birthday, and the fast-growing company has run into some rocky patches over projects like the "Beacon" advertising campaign and members' ability to delete their profiles.

Some critics have suggested that in order for the company to stay on top of Silicon Valley, it would need more seasoned employees in high places.

Additionally, Sandberg's experience in building the Internet's most successful digital-advertising giant will be a valuable asset to Facebook, which is in the process of building a "social advertising" model that can boost the company's profits.

Social-media advertising's less-than-stellar reputation was solidified when Google co-founder Sergey Brin said the search giant's contract with News Corp.'s MySpace.com, Facebook's chief rival, had produced disappointing revenue results.

By pulling in a Google advertising veteran, Facebook likely hopes to bring new levels of legitimacy to its advertising strategy, boosting advertiser confidence and eventually profit margins.

"Sheryl is a great manager who will help scale Facebook's operations globally," Zuckerberg, to whom Sandberg will report, said in a statement. "She has relevant experience and a track record of scaling business operations and building new kinds of advertising networks. Sheryl understands Facebook's goal of connecting everyone in the world and is passionate about building a business that will enable us to realize this mission."

Sandberg, 38, is by no means the first Google staffer to defect to a high-profile post at Facebook. The company's chief financial officer is Gideon Yu, formerly of YouTube, and former Google Checkout czar Benjamin Ling is in charge of product marketing for the Facebook Platform developer initiative.

Sandberg and Zuckerberg, according to an article in The New York Times, met at a Christmas party last December. Negotiations between the two reportedly began with the help of venture capitalist Roger McNamee of Elevation Partners.

Sandberg had joined Google prior to the company's initial public offering, and before that was chief of staff for former Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers when he was secretary of the treasury in former U.S. President Bill Clinton's administration.