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Sheryl Sandberg Stepping Down As COO Of Facebook

‘I really feel like the next generation of leaders are ready,’ Meta COO Sheryl Sandberg wrote in a Facebook/Bloomberg. Sheryl Sandberg on We...

‘I really feel like the next generation of leaders are ready,’ Meta COO Sheryl Sandberg wrote in a Facebook/Bloomberg.
Sheryl Sandberg on Wednesday said she would be leaving her role as chief operating officer of Facebook parent Meta Platforms Inc., closing out her tenure helping lead one of the world’s most profitable and controversial companies. In a post on her Facebook profile, Ms. Sandberg said she would continue to serve as a member of Meta’s board. 

In a securities filing, Meta said she informed the company on Saturday of her intention to resign. Ms. Sandberg said her late husband told her she should take the job if she was planning to stay five years, and she stayed for 14. “I really feel like the next generation of leaders are ready,” Ms Sandberg said in an interview. “It’s been a long and great partnership with Mark, I really believe in the company, and I’m staying on the board. But it’s probably time for me to have more flexibility and more ability to do more things with my time.”

Javier Olivan, currently chief growth officer, will take over as the company’s COO when Ms. Sandberg leaves. During her time at the company, Ms. Sandberg built out the business side, turning a free-to-access social-media startup founded in a Harvard dorm room into one of the biggest advertising companies on the planet. Last year, the company reported nearly $115 billion in advertising revenue.

Ms. Sandberg was the longtime lieutenant to Mark Zuckerberg, and in that role—and as the author of the leadership book “Lean In”—became one of the most prominent women in business. Ms. Sandberg, 52 years old, said she was looking forward to spending more time on her foundation and women’s issues. Beyond that, she’s not sure about what her life after Facebook will look like.

Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, shown together in 2008, shortly after she was hired as Facebook’s COO/ All Things Digital.
“This will be a chance to take a breath and figure it out,” she said. “This job and that kind of thought process really can’t coexist.” Ms. Sandberg has been telling people that she feels burned out and that she has become a punching bag for the company’s problems, according to people familiar with the matter.

At Mr. Zuckerberg’s direction, the company is also pivoting to a future focused on the development of virtual worlds—known as the metaverse—and that is less dependent on advertising, which has long been Ms. Sandberg’s fiefdom. Ms. Sandberg has been notably absent from many of the meetings about the company’s metaverse plans, said some of the people.

“Sheryl architected our ads business, hired great people, forged our management culture, and taught me how to run a company,” Mr. Zuckerberg wrote in a post on Wednesday. “She created opportunities for millions of people around the world, and she deserves the credit for so much of what Meta is today.”

As part of the reshuffling, Marne Levine, the company’s chief business officer, will report to Mr. Olivan. “I don’t plan to replace Sheryl’s role in our existing structure,” Mr. Zuckerberg wrote. “I’m not sure that would be possible since she’s a superstar who defined the COO role in her own unique way.”

“But even if it were possible, I think Meta has reached the point where it makes sense for our product and business groups to be more closely integrated,” Mr. Zuckerberg added. Ms. Sandberg received total compensation of $35.2 million in 2021, and owned about 1.5 million shares as of last month, according to Meta’s securities filings.

Those shares were worth about $277 million at Wednesday’s closing price. Her net worth is estimated at $1.6 billion, according to Forbes. Meta’s share price has fallen by about half from its peak last year, amid struggles in its core advertising business and a broader selloff in tech stocks. Shares ended down 2.6% on Wednesday, following the news of Ms. Sandberg’s departure. Before her arrival at Facebook, Ms. Sandberg was vice president of global online sales and operations at Google.

After joining Facebook, when Mr. Zuckerberg was only 23 years old, she became the company’s business strategist and resident grown-up, with direct responsibility for advertising sales, legal and policy issues. That structure allowed Mr. Zuckerberg to focus on engineering challenges.

As the company grew into a tech giant, Ms. Sandberg’s profile rose along with it. She wrote two bestselling books, gave commencement speeches and was a regular at high-profile gatherings of influential political figures and business executives, such as those in Davos, Switzerland, and Sun Valley, Idaho. A longtime Democrat, she was also regularly mentioned as a potential candidate for office or cabinet member.

Ms. Sandberg’s husband, Dave Goldberg, died in 2015 while the two were vacationing in Mexico. Her grief and how she recovered from it were the subject of her second book, “Option B.” In recent years, Facebook became embroiled in a series of controversies around issues including data privacy and user safety, and Ms. Sandberg’s role leading the company led to intense criticism at times.

In 2018, Ms. Sandberg testified before Congress about election interference involving social media. That same year, The Wall Street Journal reported that Mr. Zuckerberg told Ms. Sandberg that he blamed her and her teams for the public fallout over Cambridge Analytica, the research firm that inappropriately accessed private data on Facebook users and used it for political research.

Ms. Sandberg later confided in friends that she wondered if she should be worried about her job. Last year the Journal also wrote a series of investigative stories about the company, called The Facebook Files, that was based on thousands of internal documents and described the flaws in its platforms and the harms they cause users, among other issues. One of the articles cited internal data to show that Ms. Sandberg’s portfolio within the company, as measured by staffers that report to her, has been shrinking in recent years.

In April, The Wall Street Journal reported that Ms. Sandberg faced scrutiny at Meta over pressing a U.K. tabloid to shelve an article about her former boyfriend, Activision Blizzard Inc. CEO Bobby Kotick, and a 2014 temporary restraining order against him. A Meta spokeswoman at the time said Ms. Sandberg had never made a threat in her communications with the tabloid. Mr. Kotick said it was his understanding that the Daily Mail didn’t run the story because it was untrue.

The spokeswoman said on Wednesday that the matter had been resolved and had nothing to do with Ms. Sandberg’s departure. In her post announcing her departure, Ms. Sandberg paid tribute to her longtime partnership with Mr. Zuckerberg.

“He sometimes says that we grew up together, and we have,” she wrote. “In the critical moments of my life, in the highest highs and in the depths of true lows, I have never had to turn to Mark, because he was already there.” —Emily Glazer, Deepa Seetharaman and Jeff Horwitz contributed to this article.