Mark Zuckerberg is a modern wartime chief executive
Facebook was meant to revolutionise and make everything better wasn’t it?
It was a friendly social networking platform that would allow us to share photos and videos, and stay in touch with those we needed to: friends, family, and the loved ones we were separated from by distances in time and geography.
But the revelations this year over the way the company makes its billions have chipped away at the gloss and put the spotlight firmly on Facebook’s founder.
As the founder and chief executive of my own companies, Verbalisation and Global Influence, we employ teams of people who are excellent at their jobs, and I trust in the management and executives for the day-to-day operation of the businesses.
But the buck stops here eventually. Like the pub landlord, my name is above the door, and the reputation and ethical strategy we employ are ultimately set by me.
In the business world, there are two types of chief executive: the “peacetime” boss, best represented by Eric Schmidt during Google’s charmed first decade, and the “wartime” boss — the one facing an existential threat.
In 2011, incoming Google boss Larry Page was a wartime chief. With Facebook rising to power, Page would have to adopt a more combative mindset against the other big technology companies in Silicon Valley that were challenging Google’s dominance and authority. And that’s exactly what he did.
Now, Mark Zuckerberg is in the trenches. Embattled and defending each decision that his c-suite generals have made over the course of the past 12 months, Zuckerberg now needs to lead from the front as the face of the company and prove his moral stance.
The problem, it seems, is that he doesn’t have one. The PR machine operating around him has briefed, coached, and strategised the majority of what comes out of his mouth in front of the media. Any statement on behalf of Facebook has been drafted, re-drafted, and then signed off by dozens of corporate communications professionals. Par for the course for a Fortune 500 chief you may think, but without some leadership, honesty, and integrity, those words fall on deaf ears.
Even when given the opportunity to clear the air, he somehow doesn’t manage to do so.
In a letter to Zuckerberg signed by members from eight parliaments globally – including the British MPs of the digital, culture, media and sport select committee – he has been repeatedly asked to answer politicians over scandals on data gathering, Russian interference in elections and data breaches that have engulfed the company.
The rise of fake news has happened on Zuckerberg’s watch – and now the information we consume globally through technology can no longer be trusted to be true. He has so far declined to come forward and testify.
Sometimes I don’t want to go to work on a Monday morning either, Mark, but believe it or not I still do.
Over the course of 2018, Facebook has seen several high-level departures of senior executives. As the critics have fixed their bayonets, Zuckerberg has routed out the deserters and closed ranks.
As it stands, only Zuckerberg can fire Zuckerberg. He may, according to rumours, have described criticism of Facebook as a media witch hunt, but he can no longer afford to dodge responsibility.
For years, Zuckerberg has preached the importance of Facebook’s efforts to connect the world. Now he needs to connect with the users who helped build the platform globally and rebuild the trust in the company he started. Facebook is under fire, and the chief executive should be on the front line.