Nov 18, 2018

4. Facebook's executive trainwreck

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Facebook had even worse press than Amazon this week, thanks mainly to a devastating New York Times article on Wednesday.

What they're saying: The focus of the story is the manner in which Facebook's top two executives — Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg — react to bad news. Rather than deal with it directly, they tend, in the words of the article's headline, to "delay, deny and deflect." The conclusion: "Bent on growth, the pair ignored warning signs and then sought to conceal them from public view."

Facebook also hired Definers, an opposition-research specialist in Washington, in a move that ended up backfiring spectacularly. Zuckerberg now denies (implausibly) that either he or Sandberg had ever heard of Definers before the Times article appeared.

Facebook shares closed at $139.53 on Friday, down 36% from their high of $218.62 in July, less than 4 months ago. That's a loss of $228 billion in market capitalization and a sign that the market has lost faith in Facebook's executive leadership.

  • Zuckerberg's attempt on Thursday to mollify the market and the press was predictably unsuccessful.
  • Axios' Chief Financial Correspondent Felix Salmon made the case in April that Zuckerberg is no longer the right person to lead Facebook. His product and engineering skills are prodigious yet also irrelevant, and by Zuckerberg's own admission, neither he nor Sandberg are fully aware of what's going on internally.

Facebook's board has neither the ability nor the inclination to fire Zuckerberg. But that doesn't mean he can't resign as CEO. At any point, he is free to hand the reins over to someone with a better intuitive understanding of why governments and users around the world are so upset at the company (hint: patent applications like this one don't help) and what needs to be done to fix the problem.

The bottom line: Facebook has lurched from crisis to crisis, and it has managed none of those crises well. It's now clear who bears the blame for that.

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Coronavirus kills 2 Diamond Princess passengers and South Korea sees first death

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. U.S. numbers include Americans extracted from Princess Cruise ship.

Two elderly Diamond Princess passengers have been killed by the novel coronavirus — the first deaths confirmed among the more than 600 infected aboard the cruise ship. South Korea also announced its first death Thursday.

The big picture: COVID-19 has now killed more than 2,200 people and infected over 75,465 others, mostly in mainland China, where the National Health Commission announced 118 new deaths since Thursday.

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SoftBank to cut its stake to get T-Mobile's Sprint deal done

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

T-Mobile and Sprint announced a revised merger agreement that will see SoftBank getting a smaller share of the combined company, while most shareholders will receive the previously agreed upon exchange rate. The companies said they hope to get the deal as early as April 1.

Why it matters: The amended deal reflects the decline in Sprint's business, while leaving most shareholders' stake intact and removing another hurdle to the deal's closure.