When, not if, Sheryl Sandberg leaves Meta has been one of the most speculated questions among current and former employees over the past few years. Even still, the news Wednesday that she will soon leave her position as the social media giant’s number-two executive sent shockwaves throughout the company and the rest of Silicon Valley.
In her own words, there are two big factors in Sandberg’s decision to leave now: the fact that Meta’s executive team has been built up to make way for her departure, and that, as the leader of the “Lean In” movement, she wants to focus more on philanthropy and women’s rights. “There’s no perfect time,” she told me during a brief phone interview Wednesday afternoon. “It is a job that’s been an honor and a privilege, but it’s not a job that leaves a lot of time to do much else.”
Here’s my full conversation with Sandberg about her stepping down as COO of Meta, edited lightly for clarity:
Heath: Why the timing of doing this now versus at any other point?
Sandberg: You know, when I took this job, I remember interviewing with Mark for a very long time and then going to dinner with Mark and Priscilla and [my late husband] Dave, and talking to Dave about how I should only take this job if I thought I could do it for five years. And that was 14 years ago. 14 years into a job I thought would last for five years.
There’s no perfect time. It is a job that’s been an honor and a privilege, but it’s not a job that leaves a lot of time to do much else. And I really wanted to make more room in my life to do philanthropy, to work with my foundation. It’s a very critical moment for women, and it’s very important to me and to have the opportunity to do more on that right now. It also is a moment where I really feel very, very good about the team we’ve built. Very good. I think Mark and I have built an incredibly strong team.
Heath: So was it just getting the team to a place where it felt good to be able to make this move?
Sandberg: Yeah, that’s a big part of it because I care so much about the company.
Heath: You’re going to stay on the board, so you’re going to continue to be engaged there. Do you plan on staying for multiple years?
Sandberg: I haven’t gotten that far but for now, staying on the board.
Heath: The business has always had challenges, but I would say it’s probably the most multifaceted it has ever been in terms of regulation, Apple’s tracking changes, and all these things that are happening at once. How do you feel about leaving in this moment, where there’s a huge transition underway with how ads work and everything you built?
Sandberg: When you think about our business, there’s never one moment where a chapter ends and a new one begins. This is not the beginning or the end of the ads, this isn’t the beginning or the end of the metaverse business. But it’s a continuum. And we’ve had challenges all along the way. We’re going to continue to have challenges going forward. The task ahead is to build the current business, which people are working on and doing, and also build the future. And I have a lot of confidence in both.
I said on the earnings call that we have a family of apps that 3 billion people use to connect. Businesses use that to grow their business and I think that can and will continue. And then when you think about the metaverse, our leader there is Boz [Andrew Bosworth]. And Boz was my partner on the ads business for a very long time. He is very business minded and I think will do a great job building the next business for the company.
Heath: What do you make of the metaverse in terms of the business bet there? It’s very long term, obviously. But how have you thought about that?
Sandberg: The opportunity and the challenge is the same. This is a company that has to build the next business while it’s running its current one. It’s a reflective moment for me, a time when I look back over the course of the last 14 years and see we have done that before, right? If you remember, we went public with no ads. No ads! No ads on mobile at all. And that mobile transition happened very quickly. We only had ads on the desktop, so we had to run the desktop business while migrating on to mobile. I think this is going to be an even bigger transition than that, but this is a team that knows how to make transitions like that.
Heath: Do you have a biggest regret, looking back over 14 years?
Sandberg: We have things we’ve learned and certainly wish we had known earlier. I put in my post that we have a real responsibility to protect peoples’ privacy, to build safety into the products. And I think we made those investments. But of course we wish we had done those earlier. And if you look at what we’re doing now with the metaverse, Nick [Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs] wrote a very good paper, and we are building that in now for the metaverse. And I think that is very, very, very important.