Home How Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg Became One of the Most Powerful Women in the World

How Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg Became One of the Most Powerful Women in the World

Mark Zuckerberg is on his way to becoming one of the richest people in the world, but when it comes to influence in the worlds of politics and business, he sits in the shadow of his chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg.

Sandberg, 43, is credited for the success of Facebook’s advertising strategy. When she joined Facebook in 2008 it had 130 employees and no cash. Three years later Facebook was profitable, 2,500 people worked there and the userbase had jumped from 70 million to almost 845 million. But her career, and influence, began long before Zuckberg sought her out.

“Don’t Leave Before You Leave.”

Sandberg was born in 1969 in Washington, D.C., and at the age of two her family moved to Miami, where she grew up. She is older than her two siblings, David and Michelle.

As an undergraduate at Harvard, Sandberg majored in economics and took Lawrence Summers’ class in public sector economics. Her midterm and final grades were the highest in the class, and Summers ended up becoming the adviser on her senior thesis, “how economic inequality contributes to spousal abuse.”

When Summers became the chief economist at the World Bank in January 1991, he recruited Sandberg, hiring her as his research assistant. After two years of working for Summers, she took a job at McKinsey & Company, and married (and later divorced) a businessman named Brian Kraff. When Summers became the Deputy Treasury Secretary in the Clinton Administration, he asked Sandberg to join as his chief of staff. She accepted.

Sandberg and Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund at the World Economic Forum, January, 2012

In Sandberg’s talks about women in the workforce, she reinforces the fact that women need to stand up for themselves, and speak up.

“Sit at the table,” she said in her 2010 TEDWomen Talk. “In the corporate sector – women at the top, c-level jobs, board seats – tops out at 15-16%. The numbers have not moved since 2002 and are going in the wrong direction.” Those numbers look about the same in the non-profit sector. She also points out how women face harder choices between personal success and professional fulfillment. How do we change those numbers?” she asks a willing audience. “By keeping women in the workforce… Success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women,” says Sandberg. “And men are reaching for opportunities more than women.”

The Sheryl Sandberg resume

  • Currently:
    Center for Global Development – Director
    Walt Disney Company – Director
    Starbucks Corporation – Director
    World Economic Forum 2012 – Co-chair
    President’s Council on Jobs & Competitiveness – Member
  • Formerly:
    Google – VP of global online sales & operations

    McKinsey & Company – management consultant
    Secretary of the Treasury (Lawrence H. Summers) – chief of staff
  • Education:
    Harvard Business School – 1993-1995
    Harvard University – BA, Economics, 1987-1991

That was the first of three points she delivered. Second, she tells women to “make sure your partner is a real partner.” At the

Grace Hopper Conference

, Sandberg expanded on that statement, speaking to an audience of young women. She told them that it was okay to get involved with those “crazy types” when they’re young, but do not marry them. In 2004 she married her long-time best friend David Goldberg, who is also the CEO of


. Together they have a five-year-old son and a two-year-old daughter.

Her third point speaks to her choice to have a family and a career. “Don’t leave before you leave,” she told the TED audience. Don’t leave the workforce to have kids and not return because you didn’t get that job you wanted before you left.

Sandberg demonstrated that first point during her time with Summers. She always made sure she was at the table, even if it meant asking others to move. In 1999, Summers became Treasury Secretary; Sandberg, at 29-years-old, became his chief of staff. “If I was making a mistake, she told me,” Summers told The New Yorker. “She was totally loyal, but totally in my face.”

In 2000, the Clinton Administration came to an end. Sandberg left Washington for the Silicon Valley shortly thereafter. Google had been aggressively recruiting her, and finally she accepted their offer. She joined in 2001, at a time when Google was still new and not-at-all profitable. But she joined Google for the same reason that she decided to get involved in politics: there was a bigger mission at stake. At Google, that mission was to make information more accessible and freely available. Sandberg is credited with making Google AdWords profitable. These ads don’t really affect the user experience; but on the flip side, they are gathering keywords from personal data found in email exchanges.

By 2008, it was time for a change again. Zuckerberg sought out Sandberg after they ran into each other at a party in the Valley. After months of negotiations, Sandberg decided to leave Google for Facebook, whose goal was “to make the world more open and connected.” It was a perfect fit.

Sandberg and Somaly Mam of the Somaly Mam Foundation, October, 2011

The Business & Culture of Facebook

Sandberg started working at Facebook in 2008, when she was 38 years old. When she joined under the title of “director,” she was granted .1% of the company. That means that when Facebook begins to trade on Wall Street later this year, she will became one of the richest self-made women in the world. She just bought a house down the street from Facebook, and she’s going to stay there, at least, for the time being. In 2011, Forbes listed her as the fifth most powerful woman in the world.

As an influencer, Sandberg focuses her energies on companies with broad, powerful missions. In politics, it’s about the greater good; at Google, she focused on making the world’s information accessible to all. And now she is at Facebook, where the goal is “to make the world more open and connected.”

At Facebook, Sandberg’s work not only influences politics and information-sharing, but is shaping the way humans think about communication. Because Facebook is not only a freshly minted public company, it’s a culture we live in.

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