Stuck in the Men's Room: The "Education" of Mark Zuckerberg
May 12th, 2012
His audience this Monday morning, a Who’s Who of Wall Street heavy-hitters, with untold billions to command, shifts in its seats. Papers rustle. BlackBerrys buzz. Cue Mr. Zuckerberg and —
Wait: where the heck is Zuck?
Mr. Zuckerberg, the hoodied man-child of Facebook, is stuck in the men’s room. Apparently, the suits can wait.
Up on the stage, Sheryl K. Sandberg, Mr. Zuckerberg’s No. 2 and the polished, corporate yin to his nerdy, coder yang, vamps a little: You know Zuck, she shrugs. And the money types laugh: yes, we know Zuck.
It’s May 7, a week before Mr. Zuckerberg’s 28th birthday. And, as Wall Street, Silicon Valley and the wider world all know, something big is coming. It is the deal that will either prove once and for all that Facebook is changing just about everything, everywhere, or that the mania over social media and this company, its apotheosis, is spiraling out of control.
Inside a ballroom at the Sheraton New York in Midtown Manhattan, Facebook’s executives, spinmeisters and bankers are choreographing its initial public stock offering. This is no mere I.P.O. It feels like a cultural event, a pinnacle in the history of tech, a moment. The deep pockets have arrived at the Sheraton for a multibillion-dollar sales pitch. If all goes well, Facebook will go public on Friday in an I.P.O. that could value it at nearly $100 billion.
One hundred billion dollars — for a company that, eight years ago, didn’t even exist.
No one has more riding on this than Mark Elliot Zuckerberg, hero-villain of “The Social Network,” destroyer of worlds, devourer of time and, for better and worse, the latest in a line of revolutionaries stretching back to Gutenberg who have upended the way we communicate and think.
The outlines of the Zuckerberg story thus far — the boyhood in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., the Harvard wars over “thefacebook,” the relentless rise in Silicon Valley — are by now well known. But Facebook’s I.P.O. will begin a new chapter — indeed, a new volume — in one of the great business narratives of our time. It will also make Mr. Zuckerberg almost impossibly rich. In an instant, his stake could be worth upward of $18.7 billion.
Mind-boggling figures aside, the question on many minds is this: Is Mr. Zuckerberg really ready for this? Is he — there’s no sugarcoating it — grown up enough to lead a public corporation that is more valuable than McDonald’s or Goldman Sachs? The answer to those questions will determine the future of Facebook, as well as the fortunes of its new, public shareholders. For the first time, Mr. Zuckerberg will be judged, in real time, by a relentless stock market. And that market, as C.E.O.’s everywhere know, is merciless.
“You’re making a bet, and the bet is always on ‘Can the founder go somewhere?’ ” Reid Hoffman, a co-founder of LinkedIn, an adviser to Mr. Zuckerberg and an early financial backer of Facebook, said in an earlier interview. “And Zuck’s done great.”
It’s hard to argue. The question, however, is where Mr. Zuckerberg goes from here as a chief executive. He declined to be interviewed for this article, but interviews with dozens of venture capitalists and entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, as well as with Facebook colleagues and outsiders who have mentored him along his climb, paint a promising picture. Beneath that hoodie, these people say, is an increasingly assured leader, one tempered by failures — and there have been some big ones — as well as astonishing successes.
Friends and colleagues agree that Mr. Zuckerberg’s goal is be a C.E.O. for the long haul. Like a software engineer writing a program, he has tried to fill in the gaps in his personal code, and to ensure, as a programmer might put it, that his code doesn’t break.
Even now, with a multibillion-dollar brass ring at hand, Mr. Zuckerberg remains intensely aware of his limitations, these people say. Where he is strong — in product design and strategy — he tends to micromanage. Where he is weak — day-to-day management, operations — he hires people with a defter touch. He has enlisted top engineers and managers, including the formidable Ms. Sandberg, 42. Friends and colleagues say she has coached the often-awkward Mr. Zuckerberg on how to interact with employees and to build Facebook’s business.
But Mr. Zuckerberg has also invested in a personal brain trust beyond Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. He cultivated as advisers such tech giants as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, as well as others as varied as Marc Andreessen, the co-founder of Netscape, and Donald E. Graham, the chairman and chief executive of the Washington Post Company.