Facebook lures top exec from Google

Facebook has raided Google to hire a new chief operating officer, providing the popular online social network with more seasoned management and advertising savvy as it strives to make more money without alienating its audience.

Sheryl Sandberg’s defection from Google, announced this week, represents a coup for Facebook just three months after it suffered a humiliating setback in its effort to inject more commercialism into its fun-loving website.

As Google’s vice-president of global online sales and operations for the past six years, Sandberg helped build the internet search leader into one of the world’s most prized companies. She also helped set up Google.org, the Mountain View-based company’s philanthropic arm.

Before joining Google, she served as the United States Treasury Department’s chief of staff during the Clinton administration.

With Sandberg’s hiring, effective March 24, Facebook fills a void created last summer when it reassigned its previous chief operating officer, Owen van Natta, to chief revenue officer. Van Natta left Facebook last month.

Besides helping steer Facebook’s expansion, Sandberg (38) could serve as a mentor for the Palo Alto-based company’s founder and chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg (23), to whom she will report directly.

Sandberg said in an interview that she is just one of several veteran executives who can act as a sounding board for Zuckerberg.
She also pointed to Gideon Yu, who became Facebook’s chief financial officer in July after stints with Yahoo!, Google’s YouTube and a venture-capital firm.

“Mark is inspiring,” Sandberg said. “He has more clarity and vision than just about anyone I ever met.”

In a statement, Zuckerberg hailed Sandberg as “a great manager who will help scale Facebook’s operations globally”.

Fears

Sandberg’s departure from Google comes amid widening fears on Wall Street that the advertising sales propelling Google’s growth are bound to slow as the US economy flirts with a recession.

Worries about a general economic slowdown are the main reason Google’s market value has plunged about 35%, or $75-billion, already this year.

Google shares dropped to a new 52-week low of $435,78 on Tuesday before bouncing back to $446,50, down $10,52 in late-afternoon trading.

“I am certainly not leaving Google because there is anything wrong there,” Sandberg said. “I think Google’s best days are still ahead.”

She said she simply couldn’t turn down the chance to help Facebook shape the social networking craze that has swept up millions of teenagers and young adults.

Facebook’s audience has more than tripled in the past 11 months to 66-million users, making it the second-largest social network behind News Corporation’s MySpace.

With 500 employees and more than $100-million in annual revenue, Facebook is far smaller than Google, which has nearly 17 000 employees and more than $16-billion in annual revenue after less than a decade in business.

But Facebook’s rapid rise since its inception four years ago has caused some analysts to wonder if the start-up could blossom into the internet’s biggest success since Google went public in August 2004.

Having already rebuffed a chance to sell Facebook to Yahoo! for $1-billion in 2006, Zuckerberg had indicated he hopes to take his company public in 2009 or 2010.

Microsoft stoked the exuberance about Facebook late last year by paying $240-million for a 1,6% stake that valued the privately held company at $15-billion.

But Facebook stumbled badly shortly after winning Microsoft’s stamp of approval by rolling out a new advertising system that infuriated thousands of its users and raised questions about Zuckerberg’s judgement.

The marketing tool, called “Beacon”, tracked Facebook’s users’ purchases and actions at dozens of websites and then broadcast the data on the pages of their listed friends within its social network.

After days of protests, Zuckerberg finally apologised and made it easier for Facebook users to block Beacon.—Sapa-AP

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