For over a decade, Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg started and ended each week by getting together.
The symbolism of the ritual was clear. It was intended to indicate that Mr. Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Meta, and Ms. Sandberg, the chief operating officer, were aligned at the top of the company.
But when Mrs. Sandberg, 52, said on Wednesday that… she would retire from Meta this fall, she crystallized an unspoken change at the tech giant: Mr. Zuckerberg doesn’t have a clear No. 2 anymore.
While Mr. Zuckerberg has appointed Javier Olivan, a longtime executive, to take over Ms. Sandberg’s job when she leaves, the importance of the chief operating officer position at Meta, which was previously known as Facebook, has diminished. Mr. Zuckerberg, 38, instead has four executives who have equal responsibilities and who make and execute important decisions for him.
Zuckerberg made the structural shift because he wanted to consolidate his control over all branches of the company, three people close to him said. While Mr. Zuckerberg has always been the undisputed boss, holding a majority voting stock in the company, he shared power with Ms. Sandberg when he was a younger businessman and needed help growing the company. But with more than 18 years of experience under his belt, he wants to exercise all his power and be more clearly identified as Meta’s sole leader, the people said.
The four top lieutenants are Andrew Bosworth, the chief technology officer; Nick Cleggthe president of global affairs; Chris Cox, the chief product officer; and Mr. Olivan, who was the head of growth, Mr. Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post about Ms. Sandberg’s departure on Wednesday.
Each of the four men has great responsibilities. mr. Clegg is the public face and ambassador of Meta, while Mr. Bosworth pushes the company into the immersive world of the so-called metaverse† Mr. Cox will oversee Meta’s family of apps – Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger and Facebook – and Mr. Olivan will be in charge of analytics, infrastructure and growth.
But none of them have as much power as Ms. Sandberg, when she basically ran all business while Mr. Zuckerberg focused on developing Facebook’s products.
Mr Zuckerberg alluded to the power shift in his Facebook post. He said he had no intention of “replacing Sheryl’s role in our existing structure,” adding that Meta “has reached the point where it makes sense for our product and business groups to be more closely integrated, rather than all of them.” business and operations functions are organized separately from our products.”
RA Farrokhnia, a professor at Columbia’s Business and Engineering Schools, said the shift in management structure made sense as Meta invested in the metaverse and removed from the social network model which Mrs. Sandberg built an advertising company for and stood for for many years.
“Going in this direction will require a more decentralized – and more traditional – governance structure,” said Mr Farrokhnia. “You have several people who come together where the sum of the parts becomes much greater.”
A spokesperson for Meta declined to comment and declined to provide interviews with executives.
For years, Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Sandberg had clearly defined responsibilities, which employees often referred to as the “Sandberg side” and “Mark side.” Ms. Sandberg led the business, policy and legal teams with considerable autonomy, while Mr. Zuckerberg was responsible for the engineering and product teams.
That started to change in 2020 after Facebook dealt with scandals related to privacy, misinformation and other toxic content on the platform. Mr. Zuckerberg told his teams that: he was done apologizing and wanted to devote more time and attention to innovative products the company was designing.
Since then, Mr. Zuckerberg has gained more control over public messages and policy decisions, which Ms. Sandberg used to do. He also recruited associates with public policy expertise and fostered longtime executives loyal to his vision.
Three executives he promoted were Mr. Bosworth and Mr. Cox, who have been with the company for 16 years, and Mr. Olivan, who joined nearly 15 years ago. They were among Zuckerberg’s early recruits and were instrumental in building the earliest versions of Facebook.
Mr. Olivan, 44, who is known internally as Javi, joined Facebook as head of international growth and has steadily climbed the ranks. He is not a household name, but oversaw Facebook’s rapid expansion and was heavily involved in maintaining the company’s technical infrastructure.
mr. Bosworth, 40, is seen as an enthusiastic and sometimes brash cheerleader for Mr. Zuckerberg. In January he was promoted to the next Chief Technology Officer† He oversees the virtual and augmented reality labs, which make products like the Quest virtual reality headsets that are at the heart of Mr. Zuckerberg’s pursuit of the metaverse. He and Mr. Zuckerberg are also good friends who go on vacation together.
Mr. Cox, 39, who became Chief Product Officer in 2005, is often described by employees as the heart of the company. He left Facebook in March 2019 but returned in June 2020, sparking speculation that Mr. Zuckerberg may have signaled him as a successor.
During Mr. Cox’s absence, some of his teams were reassigned to report directly to Mr. Zuckerberg or other executives, said two senior Meta employees who have worked with Mr. Cox since his return. They said he didn’t take on the kind of expansive role he once had with thousands of engineers reporting to him.
Mr Clegg, 55, joined the company in 2018 after a career in British politics, including a stint as Deputy Prime Minister. Ms. Sandberg hired him to take on Facebook’s thorny political problems worldwide, a job that once belonged to her. Over time, he has become something of a de facto head of state for the company, dealing with world governments and advocating for Meta at the regulatory level. In February he was promoted as president of global affairs, reporting to Mr. Zuckerberg.
At Meta, insiders have long speculated about who a possible successor to Mr. Zuckerberg would be, should he ever leave. Ms Sandberg’s imminent departure has now shortened that list and provided no clear answers.
“Over the years, few people other than Sheryl have emerged as a potential successor to Mark,” said Katie Harbath, a public policy director at Meta who left the company last year. “It makes sense that Mark wants options for possible successors.”
She added, “It can be risky to focus on just one person.”