Career Development

Sheryl Sandberg


Sheryl Sandberg: a bold adventure through the Career Jungle Gym
Career Development
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I. Thinking beyond her elite status

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s success streak began at an early age.

  • Born to a Jewish family, Sandberg was always at the top of her class, graduating with high grades and honors in middle school as well as high school.
  • In 1987, Sandberg enrolled at Harvard College and graduated summa cum laude in 1991 with a bachelor’s degree in economics.
  • In 1993, she enrolled at Harvard Business School, and in 1995 she earned her MBA with the highest distinction.

→ Sandberg stood out, even among some of the smartest individuals in academia.

However, Sandberg did not choose to take the path that most in her position would. That is, her decisions reflected that a high salary and a broad network were not her priorities.

  • As an undergraduate, Sandberg founded Women in Economics and Government, an extracurricular organization for women interested in humanitarian and societal issues, rather than joining a pre-professional group that would help her career.
  • After graduating, she worked as a research assistant at the World Bank, where she worked for one year on health projects in India dealing with leprosy, AIDS, and blindness.
  • After graduating from business school in 1995, Sandberg worked as a management consultant for McKinsey & Company, a top consulting firm, but left after approximately one year. She worked under Larry Summers, her college mentor who had then been appointed as the US Secretary of the Treasury under President Bill Clinton.
  • When the Republicans gained the US Presidency in November 2000, Sandberg rejected job offers from some of the best consulting and finance firms in the US to serve as Google’s Vice President of Global Online Sales and Operations. At this point, Google had but 300 employees.
  • Google eventually rose to the top of the tech world, with Sandberg as its Vice President. In late 2007, 23-year-old Mark Zuckerberg met Sandberg at a party, thought she was “a perfect fit” for the role of COO, and hired her away from Google.

→ Unlike many Harvard graduates, Sandberg made career decisions based on the challenges they offered. This factor, among many others, put her on the track to become one of the most influential leaders of her time.

What were the key factors that enabled Sandberg to become not just a successful career woman, but also an influential world leader?

II. Facing uncertainties and seizing opportunities

Sheryl Sandberg is not your conventional elite of the capitalist world, nor is she a self-made entrepreneur. What set her apart was first, her courage in seizing three key opportunities, and second, her dedication to fulfilling these roles.

(Opportunity 1: Larry Summers) After college, Sandberg accepts her mentor Larry Summers’ offer to work at the World Bank for a year. She then returns to work as Summers’ Chief of Staff from 1996 to 2001.

  • Larry Summers was Sandberg’s mentor and thesis advisor during her undergraduate years. He perceived her intellect and depth of thought more than anyone else.
  • When Summers was appointed as former President Clinton’s Chief Economic Advisor, he presented Sandberg with the opportunity to work as his research assistant. Sandberg rejected the offers from high-paying investment banks and private equity firms to work with Summers.
  • When Summers was appointed as the Clinton Administration’s Secretary of the Treasury, he once again reached out to Sandberg, who was then working in McKinsey after attaining her MBA and offered her a position as his Chief Secretary. Sandberg accepted and spent the time helping Summers through difficult financial issues such as the Asian financial crisis.
  • Sandberg solved problems like a data analyst and read macroeconomic indicators like a machine. She also wielded political acumen that made her a valued member of the White House.

→ To this day, Americans remember the Clinton administration for its spectacular economic policies.

(Opportunity 2: Eric Schmidt) With the transition to the Bush administration, Sandberg loses her job at the White House. She is promptly hired by Google CEO Eric Schmidt and stays at the company for 8 years.

  • With the Bush presidency, Summers lost his position as the Secretary of the Treasury. At the same time, Sandberg finished her term at the office.
  • Rather than continuing on the road towards becoming a policymaker or economist, Sandberg decided to [1] place her bet on Silicon Valley, inspired by startups and their innovations, fast-paced work environments, and flat hierarchical structures.
  • Fortunately, this was a time when Google, having made it through the dot-com crash, was strategically on the hunt for talent. Eric Schmidt, the CEO, sought to hire an individual that could help him build a new revenue model for the company.
  • Schmidt thought Sandberg would fit perfectly with the company and offered her a job as the first manager of Google’s business unit. Sandberg declined offers from bigger companies at the time and “hopped on the rocket.”
  • Sandberg, a newcomer to the tech world, proposed idea after idea to bring up the company’s bottom line. She was not always successful, but Sandberg refused to give up. Thwarting suggestions that she stick with conventional revenue models of the tech industry, she crafted a business model suited to Google and the value it brought to consumers. She proceeded to launch the innovative AdWords program, boosting the firm’s revenue by 4x in just one year. This led to her promotion as Google’s VP of Global Online Sales and Operations.

→ Sandberg wielded creativity to develop a brilliant ad-revenue model, aiding Google on its path towards industry domination.

(Opportunity 3: Mark Zuckerberg)Sandberg leaves Google for Facebook after meeting a like-minded business partner in Mark Zuckerberg. She has been working there ever since.

  • Facebook was founded by Mark Zuckerberg in 2004. In 2007, Facebook was snowballing its way to be one of the most influential companies in the world. To aid this process, Zuckerberg was looking to hire a COO.
  • Zuckerberg met Sandberg at a Christmas party and for six weeks begged for her to leave Google to join Facebook as its COO. Sandberg loved Facebook’s mission to connect people around the world, as well as Zuckerberg’s contagious enthusiasm for his company, and she decided to accept his offer.
  • Sandberg became the brilliant mind behind Facebook’s innovative engagement ad campaigns, which received much approval from users. She succeeded in raising Facebook’s revenue from 0 to $1 billion.
  • Sandberg also had success in running a variety of other operations that made the social media company more profitable; she oversaw the company’s management, operations, marketing, recruitment, and political involvement. In just three years, Sandberg helped increase the number of users from 7 million to 800 million.

→ Sandberg has been one of the most influential figures in Facebook’s overall success in the past decade.

III. Sheryl Sandberg shows you that successful business people can become world leaders.

There are four lessons we can take away from Sandberg’s life.

1. Be faithful to and never stop improving the fundamental service of your business.

  • Sandberg applied revenue models which were suited to Google’s and Facebook’s missions. Her models made it such that the company’s growth would return benefits to its users.
  • When it came to advertising, Sandberg thought outside of the box. Google’s personalized ad service and Facebook’s user/friend-based ad-customization engaged, rather than repelling customers.
  • Traditional internet/tech companies depended on a [2] one-size-fits-all ad scheme, which directed all users to ads haphazardly, and was based on overall web traffic data.

→ Sandberg wasn’t a simple-minded ad-[3]peddler. She changed the game by making ads a win-win situation for companies and consumers.

2. Seize rare opportunities. But also, be prepared to face with such opportunities.

  • If we view Sandberg’s career history, we see that what motivated her decisions were not high salaries or prestige. She instead stayed true to her perception about where she belonged and where she believed the world was headed.
  • Sandberg chose 1) the World Bank because she fiercely desired to right society by influencing economic policies, 2) Google (despite the dot-com bust) because she saw the infinite potential of the tech industry, and 3) Facebook because she was inspired by Facebook’s societal mission to connect the world and thus [4]level the playing field.
  • At every transitional phase of her life, Sandberg was wooed by influential and wealthy figures. Though Sandberg likely owes this partially to her robust CV, we believe that it is her boldness and ability to work through challenging problems that ultimately attracted all her job offers (this is why Eric Schmidt was willing to hire Sandberg despite her inexperience in tech).

→ Sandberg’s life teaches us people will recognize those who have a giving attitude and the courage to challenge convention.

3. If you love what a company does and believe in its potential, dedicate at minimum seven years toward making a meaningful contribution.

  • Her year at McKinsey may be an exception, but Sandberg has held a record of staying in a company for at least seven years, making a meaningful contribution at each location.
  • Sandberg worked in Washington D.C. for seven years, Google for nine, and Facebook for ten developing amazing ideas at each position. Each job represents a cycle of creative/strategic thinking, execution of ideas, receiving and applying feedback, and improving the company and the self.

→ A meaningful contribution requires not simply wit or experience, but also commitment.

4. To become a global leader, make valuable contributions to the world.

  • From 2010 to 2015, Sandberg traveled the world, giving lectures and introducing her book Lean In, which discusses women’s empowerment in the workplace and thus society.
  • One of the lectures she gives is about the early death of her husband and what this experience taught her about what made life meaningful.

→ Sandberg may not be the leader of her own company, but she has nonetheless shown that it is possible to lead others by setting an example through the lessons learned throughout one’s life.

IV. What kind of life should we be living?

How is your work life? Are you doing all that you can to improve your firm’s core service? Do you go to work with a positive attitude that sets an example for others? Are you seizing all the opportunities around you? Are you voicing yourself in your circles and society?

Please discuss the lessons obtained from Sheryl Sandberg’s life with your Ringle Tutor.

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