Jun 8 • 50M

Sheryl Sandberg Leans Out w/Deepa Seetharaman)

We talk to the Wall Street Journal reporter about Sandberg's planned exit from Meta

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Big tech executives are heading for the exits. Last week, Meta Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg announced that she would leave the Facebook parent company in the fall. Today, Dave Clark, CEO of Amazon’s worldwide consumer business, explained why he’s leaving Amazon: He’s going to become CEO of the logistics startup Flexport. With the markets on the brink, what other top tech executives will decide it’s a good time to step away?

On this week’s Dead Cat, Tom Dotan, Katie Benner, and I talked to Wall Street Journal reporter Deepa Seetharaman about why Sandberg is leaving Facebook parent company Meta. There have been plenty of reasons cited for Sandberg’s departure: Burnout, a rising philanthropic impulse, a shrinking fiefdom within Meta.

Seetharaman and her colleagues reported that Sandberg has faced an internal investigation at Meta that could have given Sandberg another reason to head for the exits.

The Journal reported:

Earlier this year, The Wall Street Journal contacted Meta about two incidents from several years ago in which Ms. Sandberg, the chief operating officer, pressed a U.K. tabloid to shelve an article about her former boyfriend, Activision Blizzard Inc. Chief Executive Bobby Kotick, and a 2014 temporary restraining order against him.

The episode dovetailed with a company investigation into Ms. Sandberg’s activities, which hasn’t been previously reported, including a review of her use of corporate resources to help plan her coming wedding to Tom Bernthal, a consultant, the people said. The couple has been engaged since 2020.

Last week’s podcast guest, Casey Newton, pushed back against the idea in his newsletter that the investigation likely triggered Sandberg’s departure:

Meta paid Sandberg $35 million last year; I can’t even imagine what she would have to ask her employees to do for her on the wedding front that would merit much more than a “hey, knock it off” from her boss.

Moreover, as Bloomberg’s Sarah Frier noted, for top-level executives at the world’s biggest companies, the personal and professional are often intertwined. Meta, for example, paid $15.1 million last year “for expenses related to protecting its CEO at his homes and during personal travel.” It spent another $10 million on security for Mark Zuckerberg’s family and $1.6 million so he could travel on a private aircraft.

And so you’ll forgive me for being skeptical that Sandberg’s wedding planning had anything to do with her departure, or the timing of her announcement. Particularly when you consider that Sandberg is going to continue working for the company for several more months as COO — and then remain on the Meta board indefinitely.

Toward the end of the conversation with Seetharaman, we talked about the legacy of Sandberg’s “Lean In” campaign.

Lean In helped to kick off a reexamination of how women were treated in the workplace, especially among the management ranks. That movement then started to seem passé as progressive crusaders wanted to shift the focus from individual workers “leaning in” to the responsibilities of the broader society. Today, as we’re starting to see some signs of backlash to progressive social politics, it’s worth reflecting on and celebrating the work that Sandberg undertook to help support women in the workplace.

“We’re moving into a far more regressive era in American society, in a larger way, that’s beyond Sheryl Sandberg, and beyond Amber Heard, or Johnny Depp,” Benner said on the podcast. “[Sandberg] had the financial power, and she had the social and political standing within an extremely powerful company to use that platform to say women are treated like shit at work. And can we all just agree on that? And so that was — I think we forget — that that was actually a very big deal.”

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