His audience this Monday morning, a Who’s Who of Wall Street heavy-hitters, with untold billions to command, shifts in its seats. Papers rustle. BlackBerrys buzz. Cue Zuckerberg and — Wait: where the heck is Zuck?
Zuckerberg, the hoodied man-child of Facebook, is in the men’s room. Apparently, the suits can wait.
It’s May 7, a week before Zuckerberg’s 28th birthday. In the air is the deal that will either prove once and for all that Facebook is changing, or that the mania over social media and this company, its apotheosis, is spiralling out of control. If all goes well, Facebook will go public on Friday in an IPO that could value it at nearly $100 billion.
One hundred billion dollars — for a company that didn’t even exist 8 years ago!
No one has more riding on this than Mark Elliot Zuckerberg, hero-villain of The Social Network, destroyer of worlds, devourer of time. If it goes well, it will make Zuckerberg almost impossibly rich. In an instant, his stake could be worth upward of $18.7 billion.
Mind-boggling figures aside, the question on many minds is this: Is Zuckerberg really ready for this? Is he — there’s no sugarcoating it — grown up enough to lead a public corporation that is more valuable than McDonald’s or Goldman Sachs? For the first time, Zuckerberg will be judged, in real time, by a relentless stock market. And that market, as CEOs everywhere know, is merciless.
“You’re making a bet, and the bet is always on ‘Can the founder go somewhere?’ ” Reid Hoffman, a co-founder of LinkedIn, an adviser to Zuckerberg and an early financial backer of Facebook, said in an earlier interview. “And Zuck’s done great.”
It’s hard to argue. The question, however, is where Zuckerberg goes from here as a chief executive.
He declined to be interviewed for this article, but dozens of venture capitalists and entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, as well as Facebook colleagues and outsiders who have mentored him along his climb, paint a promising picture.
Friends and colleagues agree that Zuckerberg’s goal is be a CEO for the long haul. Like a software engineer writing a programme, he has tried to fill in the gaps in his personal code, and to ensure that his code doesn't break. He is intensely aware of his limitations, these people say. Where he is strong — in product design and strategy — he tends to micromanage. Where he is weak- day-to-day management, operations — he hires people with a defter touch. He has enlisted top engineers and managers, including Sheryl K Sandberg, 42, his formidable number 2 at Facebook.
But Zuckerberg has also invested in a personal brain trust. He cultivated as advisers such tech giants as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, as well as others as varied as Marc Andreessen, the co-founder of Netscape, and Donald E Graham, the chairman and chief executive of the Washington Post Company. One venture capitalist tells how, when he met Zuckerberg in 2005, the young man wanted more than the VC’s money. He wanted an introduction to Gates.
“What’s most interesting about Mark is how he developed himself as a leader,” says Marc Benioff, the chief executive of Salesforce, who has known Zuckerberg for years. “Not only did he have an incredible vision for the industry, but he had an incredible vision for himself.”
It is that vision that is now up for scrutiny. Will Zuckerberg leave a mark?