Sheryl Sandberg’s announcement Wednesday that she was stepping down as chief operating officer of Facebook’s parent company, Meta Platforms, after 14 years sent simultaneous ripples through the worlds of technology and philanthropy.
What would it mean for the troubled Meta, which she helped grow from annual revenues of $272 million when she joined in 2008 to $118 billion last year? And what would a focus on philanthropy mean for Sandberg, who has an estimated net worth of $1.6 billion and was one of the few leading corporate executives to speak out about the possible overturning of Roe v. Wade?
“This is a really important moment for women. This is a really important moment for me to be able to do more with my philanthropy, with my foundation,” Sandberg told Fortune in an exclusive interview.
But less attention-grabbing was the executive named to replace Sandberg as Mark Zuckerberg’s No. 2: Meta’s recently named chief growth officer, Javier Oliván.
Javier “Javi” Oliván was born in 1977 in Sabiñánigo (pop: 9,245) in the northeastern Spanish region of Aragón; a mountainous town not far from the French border.
After studying electrical and industrial engineering at the Universidad de Navarra in Pamplona, Oliván joined Siemens to work in mobile communication before moving to Japan to work for Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT) on wireless video.
With Silicon Valley rising, Oliván enrolled at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business in 2005. It was there, as a Facebook user at a time when being one required a college e-mail address, that Oliván came to the attention of Zuckerberg, who had just launched the Facebook (as it was known) in 2004.
At Stanford, Oliván was creating a Spanish-language version of Facebook with several friends—called Nosuni—when Zuckerberg approached him with an offer to lead international growth at the nascent tech giant, according to a 2016 profile of Oliván from the Alumni Society, a group for “Latino leaders who have graduated from highly selective universities and colleges.”
Regarding his meeting with Zuckerberg, Oliván said at a 2018 event: “I told him that he had to internationalize the platform and translate it into all languages.”
That became Oliván’s work at Facebook. He has been at the social media platform since joining in 2007 as head of international growth, and his first project was creating the Spanish-language version—Facebook’s first non-English one, he told Spain’s El Español in a video interview in April. Today, 90% of Facebook’s 1.96 billion daily active users come from outside the United States and Canada, according to Meta’s first-quarter earnings report.
Oliván was also a major proponent of Facebook’s 2014 acquisition of WhatsApp, CNBC reports, in part because of its almost universal use in his home country of Spain.
He profile naturally rose over time, as shown by a meeting in March 2022 with Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez about Facebook’s investments and hiring in the country.
Productiva reunión con Javier Oliván, vicepresidente de @Meta. Celebramos las inversiones de la compañía en nuestro país que generarán 2.000 empleos. España es hub de talento y emprendimiento y seguirá a la vanguardia de la digitalización apoyando tecnologías como el Metaverso.
Compared with Sandberg, who regularly appeared on quarterly earnings calls and whose 2013 book, Lean In, sold 4.2 million copies in its first five years, Oliván is decidedly low-key. Where Sandberg has more than 900,000 followers on Instagram, Oliván keeps his page—with all of 17 followers—private, notes CNBC
He is also far from an obsessive user of his own product: Before a Wednesday post about Sandberg’s departure and his new position, Oliván hadn’t posted on Facebook since November 2018.
Still, being low-key does not mean Oliván doesn’t like action: He paraglided as a kid and is said to be an avid surfer who takes Zuckerberg surfing. “There are many times I feel I’ve taken the risky route,” Oliván told the Alumni Society about his professional life.
Almost inevitably, Oliván’s COO role will be different from that of his predecessor, which Zuckerberg acknowledged in a note announcing Sandberg’s departure: “I don’t plan to replace Sheryl’s role in our existing structure,” he wrote. “I’m not sure that would be possible since she’s a superstar who defined the COO role in her own unique way.”
“Javi” would become the next COO, Zuckerberg wrote, but “this role will be different from what Sheryl has done. It will be a more traditional COO role where Javi will be focused internally and operationally, building on his strong track record of making our execution more efficient and rigorous.”
Oliván seconded Zuckerberg in his own post.
“Sheryl has been a remarkable advocate for Meta and has worked with partners and helped to tell our story to external audiences for years,” he wrote. “With some exceptions, I don’t anticipate my role will have the same public-facing aspect, given that we have other leaders at Meta who are already responsible for that work.”
Oliván will take over the COO reins in the fall.
Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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