Facebook, the social website grew to a billion dollar company in a very short span of 5 years with its user base growing 10 times in 2years. All this amidst tons of controversies in the technology realms and in press, directed towards its CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Whichever angle you look at, this growth has been phenomenal and Mark must be doing something right!
Mark Zuckerberg fits the profile of a transformational leader. Explained by the increasing value of Facebook in markets and the support, respect he commands from his investors and co-workers. Mark refers to his company as a movement rather than revenue stream and runs it with such enthuses and vigour that you almost forget he is a 26 year old with zilch business experience. The young lad certainly lacked vision and direction to begin with, which now stands corrected with well formed business strategy and motive. He tries to instil his ideological goals for free and fair information sharing and strives to spread the same among his employees and users.
All this growth and popularity translates to a business world that expects this 26 year old to perform and behave like a mature business man, which is hard for any professional let alone a self made youngster. His behaviour till now as a man of affairs has raised questions, around his role as the leader in a company that has global influence and affects many people. Jay Conger’s work on leadership empowerment, apply well with Mark as he seems to grow in strength with his experience and mass recognition of what he is doing.
When Facebook choose not to go with the opt-in model for privacy controls this further cemented Mark’s adherence as a visionary and emphasised his leadership style. He refused to revert security changes and justified it as being part of the Facebook’s core value.
Mark turned down a 1 billion offer by Yahoo to buy Facebook, when he was 22 and chose instead to continue focusing on his long term plans. With the volatility of dot com business and no clear business plans for Facebook, many felt Mark had made a mistake. They stand corrected today.
Facebook was not the first of its kind and certainly did not invent social media; but was more successful than any other similar sites. For its simple ideas, principles and Mark’s aspirations, Facebook became a platform offering tools for easy and convenient networking and information sharing. Execution of this idea was best done by Facebook bringing together several user built applications and tools effectively under one roof.
Throughout his tenure as a CEO and founder of Facebook, Mark has had his fare share of mistakes. The manner in which Mark has handled these errors has been controversial and critical and I think he needs to handle them slightly more contritely. All said, Mark has responded to allegations and have managed to convince and involve parties in question and turn potential foes into allies. A good example is when Mark mailed and requested suggestions from users, including myself, who had raised concerns about the uncontrolled news feeds on Facebook which he latter corrected, by removing public feeds from Facebook.
Facebook has never issued an IPO and remains a private limited, even though it is valued over 15 billion. Mark gives his reason as “not the right time”, but I think this is partially because of the paranoia that comes from being a maturing young CEO who suddenly have to answer to many people and will involve multiple owners.
Consider Steve jobs when he started Apple at the age of 20; he made some very bad and potentially damaging decisions, through which he has grown and learned to be the true visionary he is today. His ideas and commitment to provide the best possible solution and design is the selling point at Apple and is a secret everyone knows. Just like Jobs, Mark seems to stick to his ideas and principles through tough times and is constantly learning.
Mark’s sometimes autocratic style of running the company and clinging to ownership to stamp authority seems infantile and partly because of his age and inexperience. This is clearly shown by his ownership of 3 of the 5 board positions and his persistence not to allow anyone else to take charge of ‘his’ company. This approach needs to be controlled and he has to bring in trusted associate(s) or partner(s) who have experience and the knowledge to guide the company and him. Mark needs to make sure, along with his young technical staff he get more wisdom of the grey hair.