Facebook's IPO Could Make Its CEO Worth $18B

Facebook is expected to start selling stock to the public this week. The social networking giant is expected to begin trading on the Nasdaq Stock Market on Friday. CEO Mark Zuckerberg will remain the company's biggest shareholder. Steven Levy, of Wired magazine, talks to Morning Edition's David Greene about what that means for the company and potential shareholders.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

As Facebook prepares to go public, many eyes are on one man, Mark Zuckerberg. He is Facebook's founder, CEO, biggest shareholder, a venerable tech veteran - 28 years old today.

Steven Levy is a senior writer at Wired magazine, and joined David Greene from our New York bureau to discuss the importance of Zuckerberg, as his company prepares for its initial public offering.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Good morning.

STEVEN LEVY: Good morning.

GREENE: So Steven, once Facebook does go public - and there's a lot of anticipation - the company could be worth something close to $100 billion, and that could make Mark Zuckerberg himself worth close to $18 billion. Is he worth it?

LEVY: Mark is indisputably the person who started Facebook, guided it through those years and who sets its mission. I know there's been a lot of drama, and movie watchers know a little bit of the controversy of the early days, but Mark is the man at Facebook. And if the company is worth $100 billion and he's got that stock, sure he's worth it.

GREENE: Zuckerberg is a young man. He's not even 30 yet, and he's going to be entering sort of a different world compared to the one he's been operating in. I mean, with a public company he'll be working with big investors, you know, big pension funds. I mean, describe what you expect to see in him as a CEO.

LEVY: Obviously, he'll do his fiduciary duty and he'll, I imagine, get on most earnings calls. But he signaled that he wants to run the company in the model set really by Google, based on newspaper models where the management of the company is at an arm's length with the ups and downs of quarterly earnings and what the shareholders want in the short term.

But as with Google, there is a caveat attached to this, it's saying if you want your CEO to glad-hand you as a shareholder maybe you should put your money somewhere else.

GREENE: Steven Levy, you bring up Google and, you know, Google has a lot of privacy issues, which attracted the interest of regulators and when Facebook goes public, you know, privacy is something they've struggled with, probably going to attract the attention of regulators. You know, is Mark Zuckerberg and his management team ready to handle that?

LEVY: They know that privacy is going to be an issue. They're going to have to explain, really, permanently, because the nature of their business is selling personal information to advertisers.

GREENE: Well, what would you expect in a scene, you know, Mark Zuckerberg being called in front of a senator or a House hearing? I can imagine it might be one of the few times that he'd really be forced into a, you know, a media spotlight in Washington.

LEVY: In Washington, yes. But, you know, over the years - and I've seen this personally - Mark has been much, much more comfortable in explaining Facebook with the press and outsiders there. The first time I met him it took me 15 minutes to get a complete sentence out of him. That was maybe when Facebook was a year old or so. But a couple of years later when I did a cover story for Newsweek about him, he was much, much better explaining. And when I spent some time with him last summer, he was convivial and really an excellent advocate for Facebook.

GREENE: And what do you attribute that to? Is he maturing? Do you think he's getting a lot of media training?

LEVY: I think it's a combination. I'm sure he's gotten some training, but also experience. You know, we talk about how young he is, but here's a guy who's run a company for what, eight years now? He's an experienced executive.

GREENE: You know, Steven, a lot of the early founders of Facebook have left. As the company gets ready to, you know, to go public, look back at that and tell me what that says about the management.

LEVY: I think it says something just about the nature of startups in Silicon Valley. The fact is that a lot of people - our brightest people - now have learned how exciting it is to start a company, to build something. And really, when Facebook was young, everyone kept patting themselves on the back saying yeah, we're building something. Isn't it great to get something off the ground like this? And then when a company reaches 200, 300, 1,000 people, it becomes something quite different.

When you're worried about your next hundred million when you have 800 million users, that's a lot different than building it from a few thousand users to a million users, to 10 million users, to 100 million. So I think that what happens is that people are able to go and say, well, I want to build something myself. And that's really where those folks have gone. They're not going to Google or Microsoft, they're starting their own companies.

GREENE: All right. That's Steven Levy. He's the author of "Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution." We've been speaking to him about Facebook, as the company prepares to go public.

Steven, thanks so much.

LEVY: My pleasure.

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