It's a second coming in India for her, and what a contrast this one is.
Sheryl Sandberg, then barely 22, arrived in India in 1991 as a Harvard graduate fresh off the Ivy League oven to the heat of Madhya Pradesh to work as a greenhorn economist at the World Bank, trying to combat
leprosy on a health mission.
At 44, she is here again after a long gap, this time as the chief operating officer of the world's favourite digital haunt, Facebook Inc, which is betting on India as the second biggest market outside of its birthplace, the US. With 100 million users already in place and a mobile revolution happening to multiply it, optimism on revenues is high.
"This is like a long full circle for me to the place where my career started," said Sandberg in Delhi.
"There is such a huge opportunity here," she gushed at a media round-table, where she quickly abandoned the high seat of the table so she could huddle in the middle in a bright magenta dress with a matching dupatta that seemed to create the optical illusion of a salwar-kameez for photographers.Read: Sandberg sees Facebook as new age alternative to TV
On a five-day India visit, Sandberg addressed women at industry chamber Ficci, Facebook's nearly-100 staffers in Hyderabad and clients and prospects in Delhi, talking to them about the social network's marketing power in offering personalised brand promotion messages for everyone from turmeric farmers to boutique hospitals. Facebook has pages for 900,000 small businesses from India and plans to convert as many of them as possible to advertisers.
Facebook Chief Operating Officer (COO) Sheryl Sandberg speaks about her book "Lean In : Women, Work and the Will to Lead" at an event organised by FICCI Ladies Organisation in New Delhi. (PTI Photo)
Unlike college drop-out Steve Jobs, the Apple founder who spent some time in India as a wandering hippie in his youth, Sandberg was a summa cum laude graduate and an MBA from Harvard. Asked if she remembered the World Bank's country head in India in her youth, she shoots back: "I was way too low in the pay-grade for that then."
Never mind. Forbes ranked her net worth on Wednesday at $1 billion in its billionaire ranking.Read: We goofed on UK experiment, says Sandberg
Her corporate journey since then has taken her to McKinsey, the world's most glamorous consultancy, the United States treasury under President Bill Clinton, and later to Google, where she was vice-president for global online sales and operations.
And of late, she is a cult figure for aspiring women leaders worldwide with the best-seller, "Lean In: Women, work and the Will To Lead"--some of which was evident in the informal hostess-like way she charmed journalists.
On the trickier side, the company founded by Marc Zuckerburg also has to contend with challenges that are political in nature. Asked about arrests made in India of people for allegedly offensive posts made on Facebook, she said: "As a company we are for free expression" but carefully avoiding political statements.
Facebook is also keeping options open to start a research and development centre in India.
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