Zuckerberg’s marriages

Mark Zuckerberg must be crazy.

After floating Facebook on Friday night US time, the world’s most talked-about chief executive went out and got married to his long-time partner, Priscilla Chan, in what looked like a pretty simple ceremony in the Californian tech haven of Palo Alto.

Simple or not, everybody knows that getting married is one of the most stressful things you can do. I’ve never floated a $US104 billion company, but I’d imagine that ranks pretty high on the stress-o-meter too.

While there are several reports that there may have been some tax reasons behind the timing of Zuckerberg’s nuptials, I’d be willing to bet that it’s his new marriage to the sharemarket that is going to provide the billionaire with the most sleepless nights.

Zuckerberg has clearly made great leaps as a chief executive in recent years, as many commentators have pointed out. He might be only 28 years old, but it’s hard to argue he’s anything other than a seasoned veteran in the rarefied world of Silicon Valley.

But how Zuckerberg handles the scrutiny that a sharemarket listing brings – and whether he can continue to grow the business at the rate it needs to grow at the same time – is a very different challenge.

On a practical level, what relationship will Zuckerberg build with the market?

Will he be fronting investor conference calls at the end of each quarter? Will he be pressing the flesh with major institutional investors? Or will he take the sort of position that Steve Jobs liked to take, leaving this sort of nitty-gritty to his chief operating and financial officers, and emerging mainly to launch new products and the like.

Will his approach to corporate governance change? Zuckerberg has retained an iron grip on voting power in Facebook and essentially every major decision will come across his desk. But as the company’s shareholder base widens and shifts, He will have to, at a minimum, become more prepared to listen to the views of other investors. Again, at what level will he be involved in this?

But I think the biggest question for Zuckerberg’s market marriage is the same question that confronts every relationship: How will both parties react when things go wrong?

While Zuckerberg has been through his share of rough patches – anytime Facebook changed its privacy terms he’d usually face some sort of backlash – it’s hard to argue that the business has had any major setbacks during its phenomenal growth.

How will Zuckerberg and the market react if growth in user numbers dips? Or quarterly revenue targets are missed? Or a product simply fails to excite users? Or an acquisition goes wrong?

The CEO of any listed company will tell you that a key part of their job is managing expectations – of investors, of staff, of customers, of suppliers. It’s not as exciting as launching new products and it can be very hard work – but it’s just as crucial.

Is Mark Zuckerberg prepared for this role? You get the sense that he’d rather not do it, that he’d rather focus on building Facebook.

Unfortunately, it’s too late for that. The marriage vows (or in this case, the IPO filing) have been taken. Now he’s got to make it work.


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