Facebook needs Zuckerberg’s aggression to secure its future

Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai sent a startling note to his staff this week: “To move forward, we need to be more enterprising, work with greater urgency, sharper focus and more hunger than we only showed the sunnier days of it,” he wrote, according to The edge. Not only did his post highlight the increasingly difficult outlook for tech companies, but it also marked a shift to a tougher tone from the tech industry. Last month, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s own warning to employees was even starker: “In reality, there’s probably a bunch of people in the company who shouldn’t be here,” he said. he said in one of his weekly staff Q&As. The Facebook founder said he was aiming for more aggressive goals: “Some of you might decide this place isn’t for you and self-selecting is for me.”

It’s a little shocking to hear a tech CEO turn up the heat in a way that echoes Jack Welch’s sweeping approach to weeding out underperformers. Tech companies, after all, have typically operated as employee nirvanas, offering high salaries and lavish perks ranging from catered meals and free concerts to on-site massages and egg freezing.

But a brighter tone is needed. Tech has entered an era of uncharted uncertainty, marked by falling stocks and slowing hiring – challenges that would have been shocking even a year ago. Worse, social media companies like YouTube, Facebook and Instagram are also facing increased regulatory scrutiny while trying to reshape their products on the fly to fend off competition from ByteDance’s TikTok. All told, the days of unstoppable tech growth are over and the latest warnings from Pichai and Zuckerberg suggest not only that second-quarter earnings could leave investors appalled, but that they are positioning themselves to get tougher on the numbers they have been indulging in for years.

Zuckerberg, by his own description, is a wartime CEO by nature. He was influenced by the writings of Facebook investor Ben Horowitz, who posits that a peacetime CEO “focuses on the big picture” while a wartime CEO “cares about a speck of dust on a gnat’s ass”. While a CEO in peacetime tries to minimize conflict, a CEO in wartime “emphasizes contradictions”. Relentlessly ambitious and competitive to the point of being paranoid, Zuckerberg led Facebook with a sense of urgency even when times were good. In 2012, he chased Instagram and bought it for $1 billion after warning his chief financial officer that the company “could be very disruptive to us”, according to emails released in antitrust proceedings against the society. Two years later, he bought WhatsApp for $19 billion for seemingly similar defensive reasons.

This naturally drew the ire of antitrust regulators, and Zuckerberg’s brazen approach to cloning competitors has also earned him accusations of being a copycat. A running joke is that Snap CEO Evan Spiegel is Facebook’s head of R&D, thanks to all the features Facebook has snapped up from the small company. But when times are tough, this kind of cruelty can also help protect a company’s bottom line.

“He’s competitive like no one I’ve ever seen before,” former Instagram VP of Product Kevin Weil said in an interview with the Big Technology Podcast last week. “Even back when Facebook was top and right, and nothing could go wrong, there was always something urgent, something existential that everyone was focused on, and [he had] a way to create focus and motivation when you could be forgiven for being lazy for a little while. Mark always had that thing.”

Zuckerberg has, for better or worse, made his job harder by pivoting the entire company into a future metaverse, something other tech companies might not have had the courage to do for years. , if at all. But its previous big, game-changing bets, such as its purchase of Instagram or its move to mobile for Facebook, have paid off, and Facebook’s stock has risen more than fivefold over the past decade, even after taking account their recent sharp decline.

Now that the tech giants are going through a potentially perilous time for their businesses, those with conflicting CEOs are likely to fare better in the battle to retain talent, fend off competition and battle increasingly disparate hybrid workforces. . It’s unclear whether Google’s Sundar Pichai is a CEO for this tougher time: In a Wall Street Journal profile of Pichai from 2020, for example, his management team largely agreed he was “nice.” Perhaps his recent memo to his colleagues shows a willingness to be more confrontational.

Zuckerberg still has a long way to go to undo the harm that Facebook’s algorithms have inflicted on society. But when it comes to protecting business results, no one seems more committed to the task. He may well become the envy of his peers.

Parmy Olson is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering technology.

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