How Meta’s COO Sheryl Sandberg beat the odds to change the world
World Economic Forum from Cologny, Switzerland - Sheryl Sandberg - World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2011,
CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia.org
It was the end of the 1960s. The Vietnam war was finally over, the swinging sixties were about to give way to the glam 70s. Big hair was in fashion, the hippies were soon to be replaced by the rockers. And at the end of one of the most exciting and turbulent decades of the 20th century, a little girl was born in the suburbs of Washington DC.
A bright start
A few years later, she moved with her family to Florida where she went to school and graduated with a 4.6 GPA. It was obvious early on that she was a bright child, but even those closest to her would have been surprised to discover that this girl would grow into one of the most powerful and respected business women in the world. Nor that she would go on to inspire generations of young women to “ditch the glitz” and to take themselves seriously as strong, confident women. She is one of a generation of female executives who manage extreme work pressure while juggling their role as a woman, mother and wife.
What makes Sheryl Sandberg tick?
So, what was it about this young girl that set her apart at such an early age - and what are the things that motivated her along the way? What makes Sheryl Sandberg tick? Well sometimes it’s what you have inside, sometimes it’s who you meet along the way - and sometimes it’s just a combination of innate talent and pure hard work. Of course it helps when your thesis advisor at Harvard is the esteemed former Secretary of the Treasury for the Clinton administration, Laurence “Larry” Summers.
And Larry Summers was to have a profound impact on this future leader as she began to see the world through a fast-developing feminist lens.
One issue caught her attention early on in her career. She began to understand the role that domestic abuse can play in fostering economic inequality. This early interest was to become the inspiration for the Women in Economics and Government group which she later founded to focus on offering women “ongoing inspiration and support to help them achieve their goals”. This was yet another practical step in her ambition to get more women working in government and economics - traditionally, areas where men dominated.
The sound of breaking glass
Shattering glass ceilings was an early aspiration for the young Sandberg and it was a pattern that would crystallise over time to become a hallmark of her career. Since those early days, she has continued to be active on the issues that are important to her, always taking the time to fight the wider fight for women’s equality. In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say that she ignited an international movement that put feminism back into the mainstream.
A flying start
As you’d expect from such a glowing introduction, she graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard Business School and then it was just a matter of time before she started hitting all the right notes. Her extraordinary career began all those years ago at the World Bank, before taking her to important roles at the US Department of the Treasury. But the cream always rises to the top, and inevitably greater things lay ahead. The tech boom was just taking off and Silicon Valley was the place to be. It was 2002 and Sheryl Sandberg needed to move on. She arrived on the West Coast looking for opportunities and she spotted one with a newly formed company called Google.
Seduced by its historic mission: to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful, she took a chance on this young upstart business. It was a decision that would pay her back handsomely. She began her role there managing the online operations and sales for the business. She made great strides at Google and drove the business forward in those early days when things could have gone either way. A lone female voice in a world dominated by male engineers. Her time at Google lasted until 2008, but by then, she had delivered the goods for what was to become one of the world’s most successful companies. And she had started to gain her (soon-to-be) formidable reputation.
Stepping into social media
But this was just the beginning. In 2008, she joined another young upstart, the social media giant Facebook. They had spotted her potential and wasted no time in getting her on board as Chief Operating Officer. Specifically, she was charged with finding opportunities to scale the business commercially, while expanding its global reach. Of course, Facebook eventually became Meta and these days, she has a wide-ranging portfolio of responsibilities as Meta Platforms COO, including running Facebook’s business operations.
Alongside this enormous challenge, she is in charge of sales management, business development, HR, marketing, public policy and communications. Quite a handful. And all this talent and hard work has inevitably given her some substantial rewards. Only four years later, she became Facebook’s first female board member. Then in 2014, she joined America’s billionaires club, largely as a result of her stake in Facebook.
And she was still only 35.
Sheryl Sandberg: the woman behind the story
So, while all of this is very impressive, it’s only a part of the story. She is also human and in her personal life, like most people, she has had her fair share of tragedy. There was a brief one year marriage to businessman Brian Kraff who she divorced in 1993. It was to be more than a decade before she married again. This time, the love of her life was a man called Dave Goldberg. He was a Yahoo! Executive at the time and went on to become CEO of SurveyMonkey. The couple were in love and had two children together. And then in a cruel twist, Dave died in 2015.
He was on a family vacation, using the treadmill to stay fit. The first reported stories were that he slipped and fell and died soon after as a result of an ensuing head injury. Later, Sheryl was to reveal that it was actually due to a heart arrhythmia. Either way, she was left to rebuild her life with two children at their beautiful home in Menlo, California.
But this loss was clearly a very personal tragedy - and one that she felt deeply. Love is clearly important to her, even as one of the most successful women in the world. And perhaps it is love that keeps her grounded. A few years after she lost her second husband, she posted this on Facebook: “I wrote in Lean In that the most important decision a woman makes is if she has a life partner and who that life partner will be. The best decision I ever made was to marry Dave”.
What is she famous for?
Well, where do we start. As a role model, they don’t get much better than Sheryl Sandberg. Sometimes, success is about being in the right place at the right time and having a bit of luck. But you have to spot that luck and make it work for you. And Sheryl Sandberg is good at that.
Mention her name and the first thing that will come to mind is her time at Facebook. Not only was she the first person to actually make Facebook profitable (a big enough achievement in itself) but she also was the first one to recognise that if it was going to succeed it would need to be seen differently.
Not as a rather clunky internal comms site for college students but as a cool meeting place for like minded people to gather and exchange ideas online. It was this recognition that started the reinvention process that primed Facebook for its future success. Before she joined as COO, Facebook had almost no revenue. We know how much that has changed and much of that is thanks to Sheryl Sandberg.
Sheryl Sandberg’s first job was as a management consultant for McKinsey & Company, which she did for about a year in 1995-1996. For the next five years, she assisted Larry Summers, who at the time was the United States Secretary of the Treasury under President Bill Clinton. She had met Summers while she was studying at Harvard and he was to have a profound influence on her throughout her life.
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg looks at why a smaller percentage of women than men reach the top of their professions -- and offers 3 powerful pieces of advice to women aiming for the C-suite.
She left the job after the Republicans came into power In November 2000, the Republicans were voted into office and that was the moment that she made her move to Silicon Valley. For more than 6 years, she served as Google’s Vice President of Global Online Sales and Operations, supervising sales of its advertising and publishing products, consumer products and Google Book Search.
By late 2007, Sandberg was hungry for more responsibility and she, had shown her interest in running the troubled Washington Post Company. And then, in one of those lucky (and life changing) moments, she met Mark Zuckerberg at a Christmas party hosted by Dan Rosensweig. After a brief introduction, they had an hour long chat and the rest would soon be history.
A number of private meetings with Zuckerberg followed. They discussed various routes to profit for Facebook and eventually, Zuckerberg offered her the role of chief operating officer (COO).
Making Facebook cool
Soon after joining Facebook in March 2008, she talked to its hundreds of employees. The idea was to start to build a personal relationship with them which Zuckerberg had thus far failed to achieve. Within two years, she had made Facebook a profitable company by introducing the concept of “ads discreetly presented”. This was the game-changing breakthrough that Facebook had been looking for. Since then, there have been many more historic moments.
By 2012, she had become the eighth board appointment at Facebook, but the first woman ever to have been promoted to that position. More companies have come calling for her services over the years including big names such as The Walt Disney Company and Starbucks. She also serves on the boards of Women for Women International, the Centre for Global Development and V-Day.
Changing our world…
As one of the world’s most successful women, working for some of the world’s most powerful businesses and institutions, it’s no exaggeration to say that Sheryl Sandberg has gone a long way to changing our world. But she has always had one eye on the greater good and the role that she can play as a female leader continues to inspire women both in the United States and around the world.
Her influence is felt far and wide with regular appearances on the annual Forbes list of the world’s most powerful women, where she currently sits in 36th place. A quick look at any comparable list of the world’s most influential people will probably have Sheryl on there somewhere. Whether it’s Time Magazine, The Wall Street Journal or Business Week, she is held in high regard. And she’s been riding high on the bestseller list. Her book ‘Lean In’ was shortlisted for the ‘Financial Times’ and Goldman Sachs ‘Business Book of the Year Award’ and her second book, Option B, dealing with the sensitive subject of managing grief) was a response to the tragic loss of her second husband. But more about that later…
Her passionate purpose…
So, how does a middle class kid from Florida rise to the top of the tree in a world where too few women do? Well, it was apparent from an early age that Sheryl was not only driven by money. She has always been passionate about causes that are important for her and over the years, her campaigning work has crystallised into a coherent campaign focused around the issues that mean the most to her. Even in her early days at Harvard, she established groups like Women in Economics and Government in an effort to promote and encourage women to achieve more leadership positions.
In 2013, she co-authored a book with Neill Scovell, which had huge international success. ‘Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead’, had a massive impact and sold well. But inevitably, it came with a small (but predictable) backlash focusing on claims that it was somehow “elitist” and “out of touch” with the struggles that ordinary women face balancing their personal lives and their careers.
But that didn’t stop her. With typical foresight, she used the profits to found the non-profit ‘Lean In Foundation’. Renamed the ‘Sheryl Sandberg & Dave Goldberg Family Foundation’ in 2016, it became the parent foundation for both LeanIn.Org and another new organization formed around her second best selling book, ‘Option B’ in 2017.
And she’s not afraid of politics. Her passion for women’s issues led her to sign an open letter in 2015 to then German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the chair of the African Union, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. The letter made a passionate plea for women’s equality and once again allowed her to project her voice on a global stage. She even sponsored the ‘Ban Bossy’ campaign in 2014 which she set up to encourage girls to lead. She also co-authored ‘Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead’ with Neill Scovell in 2013. The book, despite its immense success garnered her criticism for being “too elitist” and "tone-deaf" to the struggles faced by the average woman in the workplace. But it went on to become a bestseller and have huge success.
Sheryl Sandberg got married to Brian Kraff in 1993, but the couple divorced only a year later. In 2004, she married Dave Goldberg, who was at the time an executive with Yahoo! and later became the CEO of SurveyMonkey. On May 1, 2015, it was reported that her husband died due to a head injury that he had sustained while vacationing in Mexico, but she later revealed that he died due to an arrhythmia. She currently lives in Menlo Park, California with her son and daughter from Goldberg. Love paid her another visit a few years later as she fell in love with Tom Bernthal, CEO of Kelton Global, a consumer insights and strategy firm. They became engaged in 2020.
In 2015, Sheryl Sandberg was one of 35 signatories to sign an open letter addressing German chancellor Angela Merkel and the chair of the African Union, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, demanding women’s equality on the global stage. She also sponsored the controversial ‘Ban Bossy’ campaign in 2014. Sheryl Sandberg addressed issues like the lack of women in government and business leadership positions in her book, ‘Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead’, which she co-authored with Neil Scovell in 2013. The book, despite its immense success, earned her criticism for being “too elitist” and "tone-deaf" to the struggles faced by the average woman in the workplace.
Building strong foundations…
In 2013, with profits from the sales of her book, she established the non-profit ‘Lean In Foundation’ (renamed LeanIn.Org) to offer women “ongoing inspiration and support to help them achieve their goals”. In 2016, it was renamed the ‘Sheryl Sandberg & Dave Goldberg Family Foundation’ as a parent organization for LeanIn.Org and another new organization to be formed around her 2017 book, ‘Option B’.
She was also instrumental in setting up Google’s charitable arm, Google.org.
The woman, the shoes
Sheryl Sandberg is one of the most powerful women in the world and when she steps out, people pay attention. Her style is comfortable business, which is appropriate given the casual but high intensity vibe at Meta. What she wears keeps her as “on brand” as her Facebook page - and that’s important.
Sandberg herself once said: "Being confident and believing in your own self-worth is necessary to achieving your potential."
Some of that confidence comes from within but some of it can be created by a clever sense of style that helps you to feel good while looking good. She knows what’s appropriate for her office culture and she does it really well.
For Sheryl, less is more. No attention grabbing fashion statements, just classic comfort. Her outfits leave you with the sense that she can effortlessly transition from a hard day at the office to an evening schedule of cocktail parties or business dinners.
We know she’s a fan of Yves St Laurent tan heels, but we think she’d look great in these.
She goes for a casual professional look, often slipping on a well-cut blazer or a simple jacket. And she layers her clothes with soft blouses, often with a simple sweater or cardigan.
Sensibly, her clothing style avoids young looking, busy patterns in favor of cleaner lines and a more subtle business-like look.
As with many women, she’s a fan of the “little black dress”. We love the way she’s able to balance casual comfort with business style and we think she’d look great in a pair of Viscata’s Roses beige, black or navy for a look that will last through the day and on into the night.
And when she wants something a bit more edgy, she’s been known to rock a black leather jacket, giving us a little glimpse into the fun side of her personality. Knowing your audience and understanding how to dress appropriately is an underrated skill and when you get it right, everyone knows. Maybe a pair of Viscata’s funky [Almadraba sneakerdilles] could add some urban style to her street cred.
Stylish, comfortable and fun. Three more words we can add to the description of this extraordinary role model.
We think she’d look great in our beautiful beige or black Palomeras. We like her confident style. Casual, but sophisticated, she’s a modern woman with a human touch. A billionaire who likes to keep it real. We think she’d really like our classic shoes with a Viscata twist.
Shoes that mean business.