Women to Watch 2009

Sheryl Sandberg

Chief Operating Officer, Facebook

By Published on .

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Working as treasury chief of staff for Larry Summers during Bill Clinton's presidency, it was apparent to Sheryl Sandberg that technology was the force driving the macro economy.

Sheryl Sandberg

So the former World Bank economist turned down a career in investment banking to jump aboard Google in 2001 as a key executive on its now legendary cash cow, AdWords.

In 2008 she left for the next Silicon Valley darling, Facebook, where she is chief operating officer, charged with turning the service into something that justifies valuations most recently pegged at somewhere between $5 billion and $10 billion.

Ms. Sandberg, 39, said, "It seems like a weird jump to go from government to Google to Facebook. ... They're very different organizations but ones that have real missions and matter in deep, profound ways."

While Google was about making it easier to find the world's information, Facebook is about making information less anonymous. Ms. Sandberg cites a recent personal example. She was part of a Big Sisters program in college at Harvard and had mentored an elementary-school-aged girl. The girl had grown up, gotten married and changed her name, and Ms. Sandberg had lost track of her, despite attempts to find her. In January, Ms. Sandberg got a Facebook message asking if she was the same Sheryl Sandberg "who was my big sister when I was in elementary school."

There are other similarities between Google and Facebook: Both are heavily influenced by their founders ("I love founder-run companies," said Ms. Sandberg, who recently joined the board of Starbucks). And she said she believes both have big advertising businesses. While Google has proven that, Facebook made only an estimated $300 million to $350 million in 2008. But Ms. Sandberg said it can do what search can't: generate demand.

Passion for women's causes
"It's about getting to people before they search. ... Make people aware of and engaged with your products," she said, adding that 90% of ad budgets are in demand generation.

Ms. Sandberg's passion is women's causes -- from working with Women For Women International, where she serves on the board, to her own backyard, hosting regular networking events for Silicon Valley women in her home.

"What Sheryl chose to do is say, 'Let's find the empowerment that comes from being together,'" said Pat Mitchell, president-CEO of the Paley Center for Media, who has attended the gatherings. "It wasn't 'Let's get together and complain' but 'Let's get together and listen to inspiring role models.' It's one of the most compelling exercises I've seen put into action."

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