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In surprise move, Sheryl Sandberg leaves Facebook after 14 years

Meta COO Sheryl Sandberg announced on Wednesday she is stepping down from the company after 14 years at the Silicon Valley giant.
Jose Luis Magana
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AP
Meta COO Sheryl Sandberg announced on Wednesday she is stepping down from the company after 14 years at the Silicon Valley giant.

Updated June 1, 2022 at 10:58 PM ET

Sheryl Sandberg, one of Silicon Valley's most prominent executives who helped establish Facebook as a global tech juggernaut, is stepping down as chief operating officer of Meta, Facebook's parent company.

Sandberg, 52, made the surprise announcement in a Facebook post on Wednesday, writing that: "When I took this job in 2008, I hoped I would be in this role for five years. Fourteen years later, it is time for me to write the next chapter of my life," Sandberg wrote. "I am not entirely sure what the future will bring – I have learned no one ever is."

Sandberg will stay on Meta's board of directors, according to the company. Javier Olivan, another executive at the company, will takeover as chief operating officer when Sandberg departs the role this fall.

She plans to spend her time focusing on philanthropy and her foundation. This summer, she noted in her post, she will be marrying television producer Tom Bernthal.

Sandberg was a pivotal figure in helping grow Facebook from a free social network dreamed up in a Harvard dorm to one of the most dominant social media platforms in the world, with nearly 3 billion users around the globe.

Often referred to as "the adult in the room" during the early days of Facebook's rise, she served as a seasoned No. 2 at company alongside co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, who was leading the company in his early 20s. Sandberg arrived at Facebook after years of working as a manager in advertising at Google.

"He was just 23 and I was already 38 when we met, but together we have been through the massive ups and downs of running this company," Sandberg wrote in her departure note on Wednesday.

At Facebook, Sandberg oversaw advertising strategy, hiring, firing and other management issues. Zuckerberg once said she "handles things I don't want to," he told the New Yorker in 2011. "She's much better at that."

Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer of Facebook Inc., center, Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, center left, and Robert Greifeld, chief executive officer of Nasdaq OMX Group Inc., center right, applaud after remotely ring the opening bell for trading at the Nasdaq MarketSite from the Facebook campus in Menlo Park, California, U.S., on Friday, May 18, 2012.
Bloomberg / Bloomberg via Getty Images
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Bloomberg via Getty Images
Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer of Facebook Inc., center, Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, center left, and Robert Greifeld, chief executive officer of Nasdaq OMX Group Inc., center right, applaud after remotely ring the opening bell for trading at the Nasdaq MarketSite from the Facebook campus in Menlo Park, California, U.S., on Friday, May 18, 2012.

Outside of the company, she became a public face of Facebook, sitting for interviews amid crises and schmoozing policymakers weighing regulations that would affect the company.

Sandberg is leaving at a time when Facebook, which rebranded last year as Meta, attempts to reinvent itself as a hardware company focused on the virtual reality-powered metaverse. Unlike the social network, the metaverse-related business does not rely on advertising, which was one of Sandberg's areas of expertise.

Beyond serving as the No. 2 at Facebook, Sandberg has become a celebrity author, penning "Lean In," a 2013 book that became a touchstone in the push for greater gender equality in the workplace. After her husband Dave Goldberg died suddenly in 2015, she wrote another book on how to navigate grief called "Option B."

At Facebook, Sandberg served as the public face of the company as it reeled from crises over the years, including Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election and in the months following the 2018 Cambridge Analytica scandal over how the data-mining firm had inappropriately used Facebook user data for political purposes.

Her exit comes two months after a controversy in which Sandberg reportedly urged a British tabloid to back away from reporting on her former boyfriend Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick.

The story, which was never published, was reportedly on court filings showing that an ex-girlfriend of Kotick's had received a temporary restraining order against him after harassment allegations.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Sandberg's advisors worried the story could hurt Sandberg's image as an advocate for women, so a team including Facebook employees worked to have the story killed.

Facebook reviewed whether Sandberg's actions violated company rules, but the findings have not been made public. A spokeswoman for the company would only say the investigation has been completed.

A Meta spokeswoman said Sandberg's departure is unrelated to reports about the Kotick incident.

"She was not pushed out or fired," Meta spokeswoman Nkechi Nneji said.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Bobby Allyn is a business reporter at NPR based in San Francisco. He covers technology and how Silicon Valley's largest companies are transforming how we live and reshaping society.