Mark Zuckerberg’s cruelty is what Facebook needs now

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Alphabet Inc. CEO Sundar Pichai sent a startling note to his staff this week: “Moving forward, we need to be more enterprising, work with greater urgency, sharper focus, and more hungry than we showed on sunnier days,” he wrote. , according to technology news site The Verge.

Not only did his message underscore the increasingly difficult outlook for tech companies, but it marked a shift to a tougher tone from the tech industry that is only likely to intensify in the weeks to come. Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s warning to employees last month was even starker: “In reality, there are probably a bunch of people in the company who shouldn’t be here,” he said. stated in one of his weekly staff Q&As. The Facebook founder added that he was pushing for more aggressive goals. “Some of you might decide this place isn’t for you,” he added, “and self-selection is fine 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, paying high salaries and offering lavish perks ranging from catered meals and free concerts to on-site massages and egg freezing.

But the 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. To make matters worse, social media companies like YouTube, Facebook and Google’s Instagram are also facing increased regulatory scrutiny while trying to reshape their products on the fly to fend off competition from ByteDance Inc’s TikTok.

All told, the sunny days of unstoppable tech growth are over, and the latest warnings from Pichai and Zuckerberg suggest not only that the second-quarter results due later this month could leave investors in dismay, but that they are positioning themselves to become tougher on the workforce. they indulged for years.

Zuckerberg is, by his own reported description, 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 the big picture.” ‘a speck of dust on a gnat’s ass’. While a CEO in peacetime tries to minimize conflict, a CEO in wartime “emphasizes contradictions”.

Ambitious and relentlessly 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 the company 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 Inc. CEO Evan Spiegel is Facebook’s head of R&D, thanks to all the features Facebook has emulated from the smaller company.) But when times are lean, this kind cruelty can also help protect a company’s bottom line.

“He’s competitive like no one I’ve ever seen before,” former Instagram vice president of product Kevin Weil said in an interview with the Big Technology Podcast last week. “Even back when Facebook was up 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 has always had this thing.

Zuckerberg has, for better or worse, made his job harder by pivoting the entire company to the 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(1) and Facebook’s shares have grown more than fivefold over the past decade, even in taking into account their most recent, steep 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 in 2020, for example, his management team largely agreed he was “nice.” Perhaps his recent memo to 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.(2) But when it comes to protecting the company’s bottom line, no one seems more committed to the task . He may well become the envy of his peers.

More other writers at Bloomberg Opinion:

Twitter still wants Musk’s money: Matt Levine

When data privacy became a startup’s nightmare: Andy Mukherjee

Why the iPhone is missing from Foxconn’s Asian tour: Tim Culpan

(1) Zuckerberg’s $19 billion purchase of WhatsApp has yet to prove a major financial benefit to Meta, however. The company has said for years that it plans to bring advertising to WhatsApp, which hasn’t happened, although there are over a million companies paying it for ads.” click WhatsApp”. The division’s contribution to revenue is still unclear.

(2) There’s only one sign that Zuckerberg is making amends for Facebook’s social wrongs: his move to the metaverse. VR isn’t very addictive and probably won’t have the same kind of detrimental social impact that Facebook has had.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Editorial Board or of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Parmy Olson is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering technology. A former journalist for the Wall Street Journal and Forbes, she is the author of “We Are Anonymous”.

More stories like this are available at bloomberg.com/opinion

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