Harvard may have crushed Yale in this year’s classic Thanksgiving Day football game with a lopsided 45 to 27 beating. But now a prominent Yale business school professor is taking aim at one of Harvard Business School’s most prominent female alums: Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg.
Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a senior associate dean of leadership studies at Yale’s School of Management, is publicly calling for the firing of Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook. Among other things, he calls Sandberg and her boss, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg a “sanctimonious dream team of deception and denial” who have built “a formidable social media platform that many feel produces more harm than good.”
The charismatic alumna had graduated from HBS in 1995 in the top 5% of her MBA class, has since gone on to become one of Silicon Valley’s billionaires and a highly admired role model for many professional women in recent years. Her 2013 book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, was not only a best seller but a manifesto of sorts for women to believe in themselves and take charge of their careers.
‘SANDBERG HAS LOST THE LEGITMACY TO LEAD AND SHOULD BE FIRED’
She certainly leaned in herself, becoming Facebook’s COO in 2008 at the age of 38 in the male-dominated world of Silicon Valley. Sandberg boasts a storied career, including stints as a McKinsey & Co. consultant, a chief of staff at the U.S. Treasury Department, and more than half a dozen years at Google where she rose to become vice president of global online sales and operations. She returned to Harvard in 2012 to deliver a well-received speech during the school’s Class Day exercises (see Sheryl Sandberg’s Inspiring Speech At Harvard Business School).
But Sonnenfeld, a well-known expert on leadership who is president of the Yale Chief Executive Leadership Institute, is clearly no fan. In an essay published in Chief Executive magazine, the SOM professor says flatly: “Sheryl Sandberg has lost the legitimacy to lead and should be fired. Any employee who deceived the board, threatened and intimidated whistleblowers, and smeared rivals as did she would have been fired. It is time for her to lean out.”
He cites a recent New York Times investigation which revealed that Facebook engineers knew about Russian interference in the U.S. Presidential election since the spring of 2016, which they later confirmed in greater detail in the fall of 2016. “Zuckerberg and Sandberg denied this assault on democracies to the public and concealed it from their own board,” writes Sonnenfeld. “Even internal memos in the spring of 2017 were censored with only tepid external comment with internal alarm mounting. When former internal security experts went to the board’s audit committee in late 2017, Sandberg was vindictive, calling them disloyal.”
ACCUSES SANDBERG AND HER BOSS OF ‘A PATHETIC SIX DAYS OF CHILDISH HIDING’
Sonnenfeld makes clear his total disdain for Sandberg. “In the spring of 2018, spiraling revelations of a decade of countless massive intentional user data privacy breeches beginning with The New York Times discovery of Cambridge Analytica’s invasion of 51 million users – which later grew to almost twice that number,” he notes. “Zuckerberg and Sandberg’s initial reaction was a pathetic six days of childish hiding as employees, advertisers, users and investors demanded answers.
“The silence was broken only by a deputy general counsel’s vague address to demoralized employees followed by misleading defensive comments from Zuckerberg and Sandberg. Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center showed serial intentional mass Facebook privacy invasions for a decade followed by insincere apologies and violations of Federal Trade Commission orders.
“As deflection, Sandberg hired hitmen PR firms to conduct smear campaigns against Google and Apple as diversionary efforts. She also electronically stalked the actual Facebook use of U.S. Senators, investigating them and pressuring lawmakers to give them a pass.”
CALLS FOR MORE OVERSIGHT OF ZUCKERBERG BUT NOT HIS OUSTER
The Yale professor notes that lawsuits alleged that Facebook inflated its user base, maintaining that its penetration of the 18-to-34 age demographic in all 50 states was massive, but the company’s numbers exceeded the actual population of 18-to-34-year-olds who use Facebook. “Only this fall did Facebook cancel 1.5 billion fake accounts and create a content review board,” he writes.
Sonnenfeld seems a bit more forgiving of Zuckerberg than he does of Sandberg. Instead of calling for Zuckerberg’s ouster, the professor is calling for more board oversight. “While Zuckerberg is emperor for life, the board can at last lean in. He is enormously wealthy from other people’s money and must be accountable to them. As CNBC’s Jim Cramer recommended, PepsiCo’s retiring Indra Nooyi should be brought in as chairman, clipping Zuckerberg’s wings. Other alternatives include Boeing’s Jim McNerney or Ford’s Mark Fields—all tech savvy, brilliant, accomplished and trusted leaders.”
But when it comes to HBS’ most famous female alum, Sonnenfeld is unequivocal. She’s got to go, he insists.