17 Facts About Sheryl Sandberg’s Groundbreaking Career
Sheryl Sandberg is a high-profile woman in the tech world, where women, particularly at the top, are scarce. She is the 12th wealthiest self-made woman in America, according to Forbes, and she’s the Chief Operating Officer of one of the most influential and scrutinized companies in the world: Facebook.
She’s been called one of the 50 most powerful women in business (Fortune), one of the top 50 women to watch (Wall Street Journal) and one of the most powerful women in the world in 2018 — she was No. 11 (Forbes).
So what else could Sheryl Sandberg want? She’s also on a mission to help women succeed. From writing a book about how women need to become more ambitious to setting up a nonprofit to help women do just that, she supports other women to succeed in business.
She is no stranger to controversy, though. Her book, “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead,” while a New York Times best seller, also triggered a backlash from critics who claimed that Sandberg, with two Harvard degrees and a nanny, is privileged and elitist, and doesn’t share the experiences of most women in the business world.
Facebook executives are also facing congressional and federal investigations into their possible roles in U.S. election disruptions. Both The Guardian’s and The New York Times’s investigations of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Sandberg found that the execs ignored warning signs that outside organizations were using the social network to collect the personal data of millions of Facebook users without consent, spreading disinformation online and influencing U.S. elections. Sandberg has also been criticized for investigating Facebook critics, such as billionaire investor George Soros.
Whether you feel that she attracts criticism because she’s a woman in business and tech, or because of her position and actions at Facebook, Sandberg remains a force to be reckoned with. Here’s how she built her career.
Sheryl Kara Sandberg (she uses her maiden name) was born in 1969 in Washington, D.C. Her father was an ophthalmologist and her mother was a French teacher, who left teaching to raise Sheryl and her younger siblings, David and Michelle. The family moved to Florida when Sheryl was two. Both parents were social activists who would take the kids with them to rallies, which may have laid the groundwork for Sandberg’s own social activism around economic and gender inequality.
She Was a High Academic Achiever
Sandberg once placed second in a statewide speaking contest. She was in sixth grade. The other participants were in high school.
She maintained a 4.646 grade point average (GPA) at North Miami Beach High School, and graduated ninth in her class. She went on to earn an MBA from Harvard — with highest distinction — and won a fellowship in her first year of business school.
She Always Wanted to Be a Boss, Even as a Child
Sandberg’s younger siblings, David and Michelle, tell a story about how, even as a young child, Sandberg would boss other kids around and manage them. “To the best of our knowledge Sheryl never actually played as a child,” they said in a Time interview, “[She] really just organized other children’s play.”
She Seemed Destined for a Government Career
Sandberg was hired by Harvard economist Lawrence Summers at the U.S. Department of the Treasury in 1996 during the administration of President Bill Clinton. She worked there until 2001, when she left for a job at Google. Sandberg played a key role in establishing a program to forgive developing countries debt during the 1997 Asian financial crisis.
She Developed Google’s Lucrative Online Advertising Programs
After joining the Google in 2001, Sandberg was put in charge of developing AdWords and AdSense, the business units responsible for much of Google’s earnings, and which helped the company become profitable. However, after making the business units profitable, Sandberg apparently wanted more management responsibility and Google would only offer her a job as Chief Financial Officer (CFO), instead of the Chief Operating Officer (COO) role she wanted.
Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg Recruited Her at a Christmas Party
Sandberg was thinking about moving to the Washington Post as a senior executive, but a meeting with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg at a Christmas party in 2007 led Sandberg to join Facebook instead. After extended negotiations, Sandberg got the COO job she wanted, a highly visible and powerful role in running an up-and-coming tech company with a fledgling culture she could mold.
And she got to stay on the West Coast. She wasn’t keen to move to D.C. to join the Post.
She Turned Around Facebook’s Revenue
When Sandberg came as COO to Facebook in 2008, Facebook was running at a $56 million annual loss. By 2018, Facebook was making $55.8 billion in annual revenue. Sandberg changed Facebook’s revenue focus to advertising, a model that she had successfully developed at Google, in order to make the company profitable.
She Serves on Numerous Boards
In 2009, Sandberg joined the board of the Walt Disney Company. She also sits on the boards of nonprofits Women for Women International (helps female survivors of wars), the Center for Global Development (a think tank that examines international development) and V-Day (works to end violence against women).
Her Husband Took a Step Back in His Career to Support Hers
Sandberg’s late husband Dave Goldberg left a high-powered job at Yahoo, relocated to Northern California with Sandberg and their children, and took a job with start-up Survey Monkey so Sandberg could pursue her career at Facebook. (He died suddenly in 2015 at age 47 while the family was on vacation.)
She’s a Regular at Global Forums
Because of Facebook’s huge global influence, Sandberg often meets with world leaders and is a regular at global forums such as the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Sandberg is often one of only a few woman at such gatherings, invited because of her visibility as a rare female billionaire corporate executive and “iconic leader of the feminist mainstream,” according to a New York Times article.
She’s a Best-Selling Author
In 2013, Sandberg published “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead,” a manifesto on how women can succeed in business. Her book spent more than a year on the New York Times best-seller list and sold more 4.2 million copies by early 2018.
Her second book, “Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy,” co-written with psychologist Adam Grant, focused on resilience and rebuilding life after tragedy. After Sandberg’s husband died, she struggled to cope with being a widow and raising her kids alone.
Her Nonprofit Aims to Help Other Women Succeed
Sandberg’s nonprofit Lean In focuses on women in the workplace. All proceeds from sales of “Lean In” the book go to the nonprofit. The organization offers online seminars and encourages women to meet in small support groups for “sharing ideas, gaining skills, seeking advice and showing solidarity,” according to the Lean In website.
The nonprofit also releases an annual study, together with McKinsey & Company, a global management consultant, about women’s experiences in the corporate workplace. The Lean In study is the largest of its kind in America.
She Has a History of Setting Up Nonprofits
When Sandberg worked at Google, she set up the Google Grants program, which has donated millions of dollars of free online advertising to nonprofits around the world. She was also the “unseen driving force behind the creation of Google.org,” according to the Economist. Google.org — the philanthropic branch of Google — donates 1 percent of the company’s profits, as well as staff expertise, to nonprofits around the world.
Sandberg also established a scholarship program in memory of her late husband as well as a charitable fund, the Sheryl Sandberg & David Goldberg Family Fund.
She Walks the Talk About Female Networking
Sandberg is still part of a group of seven friends from high school who continue to support each other both personally and professionally more than 25 years after they met.
“They’re smart, dynamic women who have always supported each other. It’s a rare thing to have friends who are so close for so long,” said Brad Meltzer, a best-selling writer who went to school with all seven, in a Miami Herald article.
She’s Worked With Beyoncé
Beyoncé and Sandberg launched a social media campaign, #banbossy, to encourage girls to seek out leadership roles. Lean In released a video featuring Beyoncé, Sandberg, Jennifer Garner, Condoleezza Rice and other high-profile women in support of the project.
She Prefers Old-Fashioned Pen and Paper
Despite being the COO of a leading tech company, and able to afford any digital device she could want, Sandberg prefers to use pen and paper, keeping to-do lists and important tasks written down in a spiral-bound notebook.
Sandberg has long been rumored to be considering a run for public office, which she has denied. She was being considered for possible Cabinet positions during Hillary Clinton’s unsuccessful Democratic presidential bid in 2016.
In the meantime, critics have called for Sandberg to resign, or be fired, from Facebook. Others hold her responsible for failing to stop the spread of fake news on the social media site and for not stopping the personal data mining of Facebook, which has been used to influence elections around the world.
Whether Sandberg stays at Facebook, moves on to another influential job or pursues a political career, she is likely to continue being controversial while blazing trails for women in business and society.