- Charles Platiau/Reuters
- Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is at the center of a debate about the role of social media in a democracy.
- Silicon Valley executives shared their opinions of Zuckerberg in an article in The New Yorker on Wednesday.
- Former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo called Zuckerberg a “ruthless execution machine,” but other executives described him more sympathetically.
As Facebook finds itself at the center of a global debate about free speech, fake news, and the role of social media in a democracy, much of the attention has been focused on the company’s tight-lipped CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
An article in The New Yorker published on Wednesday details Zuckerberg’s efforts to reform Facebook, and it painted him as someone who would do anything to win. The article gave executives across Silicon Valley a chance to share their opinions on the controversial CEO.
“He’s a ruthless execution machine, and if he has decided to come after you, you’re going to take a beating,” Dick Costolo, the former CEO of Twitter, told Evan Osnos for The New Yorker.
Costolo isn’t the only one who feels that way. LinkedIn CEO Reid Hoffman acknowledged that’s a common perception and that he initially felt similarly about Zuckerberg, although he said the two are now close.
“There are a number of people in the Valley who have a perception of Mark that he’s really aggressive and competitive. I think some people are a little hesitant about him from that perspective,” Hoffman told The New Yorker.
“For many years, it was, like, ‘Your LinkedIn thing is going to be crushed, so even though we’re friendly, I don’t want to get too close to you personally, because I’m going to crush you.’ Now, of course, that’s behind us and we’re good friends.”
The way Hoffman sees it, he told Business Insider last year, although early interactions with Zuckerberg were painfully awkward – “there was a lot of staring at the desk and not saying anything” – he has since matured into an “articulate” and “highly capable” leader.
Yet negative perceptions of Zuckerberg persist, even if they are far from universal in Silicon Valley. Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft and an early hero of Zuckerberg’s, pushed back on the idea that Zuckerberg was arrogant.
“Somebody who is smart, and rich, and ends up not acknowledging problems as quickly as they should will be attacked as arrogant. That comes with the territory,” he said. “I wouldn’t say that Mark’s an arrogant individual.”
The public impression of Zuckerberg has been partially shaped by the 2010 film “The Social Network,” which detailed the company’s early years, and portrayed Zuckerberg as cold, calculating, and driven mainly by a desire to meet women.
Neither Zuckerberg nor Facebook chose to be involved in the film, and many at Facebook disagreed with the unflattering depiction of their leader.
“From its facts to its essence to its portrayal, I think that was a very unfair picture. I still think it forms the basis of a lot of what people believe about Mark,” Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg told The New Yorker.
As for what Zuckerberg himself thought of the movie?
“First impressions matter a lot, and for a lot of people that was their introduction to me,” Zuckerberg told The New Yorker.
Although Zuckerberg said he’s not “insulted” by his public reputation, he did acknowledge there is a “natural zero-sumness” to the social media industry that influences the way he leads Facebook.
“I care about succeeding,” he said. “And, yes, sometimes you have to beat someone to something, in order to get to the next thing. But that’s not primarily the way that I think I roll.”