Sheryl Sandberg is the Chief Operating Officer at one of the most ubiquitous companies on the planet. Taking home over US$30 million in 2011, Sheryl is the highest paid person at Facebook. Second in command to founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg developed the plan that took the social networking giant from 70 million users and almost no revenue to a user base of 850 million users and annual revenues of $3.7 billion in less than four years.
There aren’t that many role models for women in business. The self-made legends like Oprah and Martha Stewart stand out precisely because there are so few to name. Sheryl Sandberg first caught my interest when I came across an article on her, aptly titled ‘A Woman’s Place’, in The New Yorker last summer. I remember being tickled by her encounters with the not-so-subtle nuances of male domination in Silicon Valley and specifically at Google, where Sandberg once held a Vice President position, before joining Facebook. I could relate.
Poised to be an extremely wealthy woman with an expected windfall of US$1.6 billion when the Facebook IPO goes through, Sheryl Sandberg has not been an overnight success. She was at the top of her class all through high school, before heading to Harvard for an undergraduate degree in Economics. While there, she won the respect of economics professor Lawrence Summers. Summers would become her mentor, employing her as his research assistant when he joined the World Bank. She worked on health projects in India dealing with leprosy, AIDS, and blindness, before going on to attain an MBA from the prestigious Harvard Business School. She then joined Summers once again as his chief of staff, when he became the Deputy Treasury Secretary in the Clinton Administration.
Sheryl Sandberg now occupies the #5 spot on the Forbes World’s Most Powerful Women’s list, while balancing life as a wife and mother of two young children. It is clear that she is not only exceptionally intelligent and highly educated, but has worked hard and attracted at least one powerful mentor. However, these are not the only factors she credits for her success. In a recent TED talk, Sheryl addresses the reasons for the dearth of women in leadership positions saying, “women systematically underestimate their own abilities”. She offers three key pieces of advice for women striving to make it to the top of their professions:
1. Sit at the table – constantly reach for the opportunities out there.
2. Make sure your partner is a real partner – choose a mate who will be in there with you 50/50.
3. Don’t leave before you leave – don’t be so busy planning for when you have a family that you take your foot off the gas pedal long before you actually start.
When accomplished people talk about success, it’s a good idea to listen. I hope you will take the time to watch Sheryl Sandberg’s 15-minute talk which will inspire both men and women.