Close this search box.
Close this search box.

Sonnenfeld: The Real Problem for Mark Zuckerberg Is Mark Zuckerberg

What happened to Facebook's stock? Jeffrey Sonnenfeld says that a bet on Facebook has always been a bet on CEO Mark Zuckerberg—a great bet, until it wasn’t.

Many brilliant, forceful leaders truly believe that there is in the world one person who is truly indispensable and that by virtue of making it to the top of whatever empire they run, they are made for life.

Most don’t make it very long. Even some that seem destined to rule forever—wily dictators like Papa Doc Duvalier, the Shah of Iran, and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi—don’t actually make it to the end, overtaken by history and their own internal rot.

But there’s another breed of absolute leaders, a very select group who, through a combination of savvy politics and cultivations of true believers, figure out a way to get on top and stay there for life, no matter the criticism, no matter the result.

The current class of world leaders most likely to succeed this way includes, by my counting, Vladamir Putin, XI Jingping, Jack Ma and Mark Zuckerberg, all of whom seem to have discovered the secret formula for survival, even at the expense of their own constituents.

With a stunning 19% plunge in its share price to correlate the Amazon stock price drop, Zuckerberg’s colossus erased more than $110 billion in shareholder value in a single day on Thursday, as investors finally started paying attention to the growing warning signs around the company. Privacy concerns, increasing regulation, and now slowing revenue growth all conspired to sack the stock and potentially ignite a sell-off in the sector.

“There have been plenty of warning signs that this is the case at Facebook. Zuckerberg’s adolescent initial leadership style set the stage for a historically disastrous IPO.”

The problem, of course, is that there is nothing to be done other than sell. With a dual-share structure that insures total effective control of Facebook by Zuckerberg for as long as he lives (and maybe beyond), he’s the king and will remain that way, no matter what. A bet on Facebook has always been a bet on Zuckerberg—a great bet, until it wasn’t. It’s terrible structure not just for investors, but for Zuckerberg as well. With total board control and the ability to suppress any internal criticism, unbridled leaders can be left alone to believe their own spin and do not question themselves until catastrophe hits.

There have been plenty of warning signs that this is the case at Facebook. Zuckerberg’s adolescent initial leadership style set the stage for a historically disastrous IPO. He did not go on road shows, hid under his hoodie and was disdainful of critics. Yes, he’s learned with some great mentors on his board. But he has also been dismissive of privacy concerns, misrepresented known complicity in political campaign mischief, misstated compliance with past FCC decrees, neglected demographic fall off from his main product line and failed to anticipate declining revenue and user growth.

The question here is, of course, the usual one everyone asks during this part of the play: Where was the board, chock-a-block with strong, informed, experience board members such as Mark Andreeson, Erskin Bowels, Reed Hastings and Peter Thiel? Where were they as Zuckerberg issued reckless responses to issues, such as privacy and Holocaust deniers and let his creaky business model atrophy in such swift moving space?

There’s still time for them to answer. Since Zuckerberg can effectively not be fired, the board must work doubly hard to shake some sense into him. And, to his credit, Zuckerberg has been a great learner when he gets sharp feedback and guidance.

The Facebook board must be pushed to provide diligent oversight at this point. Will it make a difference? Only one man has the answer to that question. And he’s not going anywhere.

Read more: Time For Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg To Face Facts


  • Get the CEO Briefing

    Sign up today to get weekly access to the latest issues affecting CEOs in every industry
  • upcoming events


    Strategic Planning Workshop

    1:00 - 5:00 pm

    Over 70% of Executives Surveyed Agree: Many Strategic Planning Efforts Lack Systematic Approach Tips for Enhancing Your Strategic Planning Process

    Executives expressed frustration with their current strategic planning process. Issues include:

    1. Lack of systematic approach (70%)
    2. Laundry lists without prioritization (68%)
    3. Decisions based on personalities rather than facts and information (65%)


    Steve Rutan and Denise Harrison have put together an afternoon workshop that will provide the tools you need to address these concerns.  They have worked with hundreds of executives to develop a systematic approach that will enable your team to make better decisions during strategic planning.  Steve and Denise will walk you through exercises for prioritizing your lists and steps that will reset and reinvigorate your process.  This will be a hands-on workshop that will enable you to think about your business as you use the tools that are being presented.  If you are ready for a Strategic Planning tune-up, select this workshop in your registration form.  The additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    New York, NY: ​​​Chief Executive's Corporate Citizenship Awards 2017

    Women in Leadership Seminar and Peer Discussion

    2:00 - 5:00 pm

    Female leaders face the same issues all leaders do, but they often face additional challenges too. In this peer session, we will facilitate a discussion of best practices and how to overcome common barriers to help women leaders be more effective within and outside their organizations. 

    Limited space available.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $495 will be added to your total.

    Golf Outing

    10:30 - 5:00 pm
    General’s Retreat at Hermitage Golf Course
    Sponsored by UBS

    General’s Retreat, built in 1986 with architect Gary Roger Baird, has been voted the “Best Golf Course in Nashville” and is a “must play” when visiting the Nashville, Tennessee area. With the beautiful setting along the Cumberland River, golfers of all capabilities will thoroughly enjoy the golf, scenery and hospitality.

    The golf outing fee includes transportation to and from the hotel, greens/cart fees, use of practice facilities, and boxed lunch. The bus will leave the hotel at 10:30 am for a noon shotgun start and return to the hotel after the cocktail reception following the completion of the round.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $295 will be added to your total.