AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Today, one of the tech industry's most prominent executives, Sheryl Sandberg, announced that she is stepping down as chief operating officer of Meta. That's the parent company of Facebook. Sandberg has been credited with helping to build Meta from a small startup into one of the world's most powerful companies. And we should just note real quick that Meta pays NPR to license NPR content.
All right. NPR's Bobby Allyn joins us now with more. Hey, Bobby.
BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.
CHANG: All right. So tell us more - Sheryl Sandberg stepping down after - what? - a really long time at this company, yeah?
ALLYN: Yeah. It was - really was a surprise announcement. She said today - appropriately enough, in a Facebook post - that she is leaving the company after a 14-year run. It becomes official this fall.
Now, like you were saying, I mean, she has been extremely influential to this company, and she's going to stick around a little bit. She'll be on the company's board, which suggests she's leaving on good terms. And to underscore that, a Facebook spokeswoman told me that she is not being fired or pushed out.
CHANG: You used the phrase extremely influential. I mean, how important would you say she was to the rise of Facebook?
ALLYN: Oh, hugely. I mean, remember - Facebook was started as this little website by Mark Zuckerberg in a Harvard dorm. It, back then, was, you know, this free-to-use social networking site. And as it became increasingly popular, Zuckerberg, then just in his early 20s, hired Sheryl Sandberg. She was an experienced advertising executive at Google, and she came on board as sort of the adult in the room, right? She handled big-picture issues like advertising, strategy and company culture. Hiring and firing decisions fell to Sheryl Sandberg - as Zuckerberg once put it, all the things I don't want to do, right?
CHANG: (Laughter) Lucky him.
ALLYN: Yeah, exactly. Sandberg - she really just had a central role in making Facebook one of the biggest advertising companies in the world.
CHANG: Well, people may recall that Sandberg coined the phrase lean in. I have a copy of her book. Bobby, can you just remind us what a sensation that book initially caused?
ALLYN: Yeah, it really was. In 2013, when it came out, "Lean In" was a bestseller. It, you know, pushed for women to be more assertive in the workplace. Sandberg herself described it in lofty terms, saying it was a feminist manifesto. And it did set off a national debate about gender equality in the workplace. Since then, it has been criticized, and it's found a fair share of detractors. Folks said it didn't really live up to some of the ethos of the #MeToo movement.
But she used this book as a way to, like, vault a career as a celebrity of sorts. She had, you know, a lot of fans after this book, and she was able to use that popularity to deliver speeches around the world. She was, you know, schmoozing with policymakers who were weighing regulations that would affect Facebook. And, you know, Facebook knew, and they gave her a role that let her lean in, I guess, to her skills as being a, you know, persuasive and powerful spokesperson for the company.
CHANG: Yet all of her business success - I mean, it did come with a fair amount of scrutiny, right? Can you talk a little bit about that piece of this?
ALLYN: Yeah. Now, it does seem eons ago now, but the Cambridge Analytica scandal - you remember that? - you know, over the millions of Facebook users' data that was used to target voters during the 2016 presidential campaign - inside the company, she took a lot of blame for how that crisis unfolded. And over the years, she's been in the spotlight over various other scandals that have engulfed the company.
Most recently, she found herself in hot water after the Wall Street Journal reported that she lobbied a British newspaper to have an unflattering story killed about her ex-boyfriend, Bobby Kotick, the longtime executive of video gaming company Activision Blizzard. Facebook has launched an investigation into whether Sandberg misused company resources in that episode. And Facebook says now the whole thing is unrelated to Sandberg's departure.
CHANG: That is NPR's Bobby Allyn. Thank you, Bobby.
ALLYN: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF J DILLA SONG, "THINK TWICE")
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