I had a great conversation (twice!) with New York Times Business Editor David Gillen about Mark Zuckerberg's preparation to become CEO of a publicly traded company.
I shared my perspective that I think Zuckerberg has been pretty smart about preparing himself for the role and for making sure the the company and product don't suffer because of his own blind spots and personal preferences. One gets the feeling that he has gone about learning to be a manager and leader kind of the way a great engineer would – by studying role models, learning from other people and getting lots of feedback from others who have been in the tech world. He's also brought in terrific people to support him – Cheryl Sandberg comes to mind. I'm very impressed at how he has developed both his own skills and the strength of the company. And it helps that he isn't the very first twenty-something to ride a technology company into world-class size. My guess is that he learned a lot from Gates, Jobs and all the other young entrepreneurs who took their shot at building something great.
What are the risks for someone like Zuckerberg? I think one thing that is going to surprise both him and those around him is that in a public company, there are some decisions you need to get a lot of buy-in on. The acquisition of Instagram comes to mind. As many have reported, the billion-dollar acquisitions was basically presented to the Board as a fait accompli. Once you're a public company, a lot of investors are going to be uncomfortable with such high-handedness. There is also the issue of Zuckerberg's famous about-face thinking on issues, in which opinions he held yesterday could change in an instant tomorrow. On the one hand, I think flexible thinking and openness to new inputs is terrific and important. On the other, again, the Street is a little like a political audience – it gets nervous when it observes so-called 'flip flopping'.
Of course, becoming bigger and being dominant present different challenges than being a young upstart, as Google is busy learning. It's one thing to have a great idea and build a company to deliver that. It's quite another to build an organization that can thrive to produce another great idea.