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Who Really Runs Facebook?

So...Who Runs Facebook?

Before we delve into the big question, we have to note that no one involved with Facebook in any managerial or investor role responded to our requests for comment--or even acknowledged those requests with anything more than a form letter. Even analysts were gun-shy about commenting, and we can imagine why: Facebook is arguably the most powerful company on the Internet today, and everyone wants to make a deal with it, if they haven't already. Considering Zuckerberg's notorious my-way-or-the-highway management style, talking to a reporter about how Facebook's executive offices work is probably not tops on anyone's list.

We did manage to find someone who could offer insight, in the form of Ben Parr, coeditor of the Mashable site. A former outspoken critic of Facebook, Parr is now a supporter of the company and a pundit who frequently riffs on all things Facebookish. Zuckerberg himself often personally name-checks Parr during public appearances, so he knows the players involved.

That said, even Parr claims that his knowledge of Facebook's inner workings are "limited," but he is clear about one thing: "I see no future where Zuckerberg is not CEO."

"In every experience I've had with Facebook, Zuckerberg is the one in charge. If he disagrees with anyone, he'll put the law down. He's not afraid to get 90 percent finished with a project and then dump it. A lot of people can get frustrated with this, but it is always Zuckerberg's decision. If you're not getting along at the top, you'll be forced out. If you don't share his vision ... same thing."

Harvard Business School professor Ben Edelman echoes those sentiments. Though Edelman also has no insider involvement with Facebook, he observes that the company experiences "erratic movement, particularly on key features and settings, even in controversial areas--without the kind of foresight you would expect from a company at this point in its history. This is the way you'd expect a company to behave if it was micromanaging decisions with a particular vision rather than letting middle managers make them."

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg Image: Facebook
What of Sheryl Sandberg and her "adult supervision"? "Sandberg offers some guidance," says Parr, "but really she's there to run the day-to-day, nitpicky stuff like ad sales. I'm sure they argue about a lot, and she brings a different perspective, but really she focuses on sales while he focuses on technology. Zuckerberg still decides on the company's direction, and that's it."

Though David Kirkpatrick, in his book The Facebook Effect, describes Sandberg as an "essential partner" to Zuckerberg, one gets the feeling from Sandberg's interviews and appearances that she's still playing second fiddle. Nevertheless, she has clearly become a valued member of the team. As Kirkpatrick notes, "She has found her place in this youthful culture" and "other top managers … express admiration for how well she runs the organization."

Okay, but surely all of these investors have a say in return for their millions, right?

Not so much, says Parr. All of the company's recent investors, especially DST, are known to be hands-off, and in fact Zuckerberg won't take money from an investor who wants to meddle, Parr says. Not since the Accel Partners investment in 2005 has a financial stake given an investor a seat on the board in return, and Zuckerberg has turned away several otherwise attractive suitors because they were itching for board power.

Zuckerberg has even taken steps to ensure that down the road, after a potential IPO, he personally remains in control. Based on reports, current shareholders own class B shares in the company, but if they ever sell them the shares turn into class A shares, which have only one-tenth the voting power of class B shares. Public stockholders would also own these class A shares, essentially ensuring that the balance of power remains exactly where it is today.

Though Edelman says he believes that Facebook's frequent stumbles could cause one to "imagine investors insisting on taking another course," Parr disagrees. Parr sums his viewpoint up succinctly: "There is no pressure on Zuckerberg. He controls the board. He will ensure he will remain CEO through an IPO. He'll be CEO in ten years. And the board is completely on board with this. As the company grows, he's going to grow with it."

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