There are good grounds to ask whether the Facebook boss is the right man to lead the business through its current turbulence, but the company has been set up to make such a debate irrelevant
Should Mark Zuckerberg quit as the chairman and CEO of Facebook?
The question is now being asked, and seriously enough for Mr Zuckerberg to have to address it in the round of media calls, meetings and appearances he’s been making.
The arguments in favour are quite persuasive. It’s not just the data scandal that has wiped billions of dollars off the company’s market value, although that would be enough for some. It’s the cackhanded way it has been handled. Despite the fact that it must have known what was coming, Facebook has resembled a lone swimmer caught by a powerful current, desperately trying to find a ring to cling to.
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The business has, so the narrative goes, now outgrown it’s 33-year-old founder who isn’t equipped to handle such a firestorm or chart a future course for a unique company headed into unchartered, and potentially dangerous, regulatory territory.
The head of New York City’s pension fund certainly thinks so, having told CNBC that an institution that touches a substantial chunk of the world’s population is in need of a “reputation-enhancing second chapter”.
To be fair Mr Zuckerberg, and thus the firm, has established a breast stroke with a bit more rhythm in recent days.
A conference call with reporters on Wednesday drew a reasonably positive response.
Mr Zuckerberg’s comments on the extension of tough European privacy protections to all users were less equivocal than a day earlier, which given the announcement that millions more people could have had their data harvested by Cambridge Analytica, the previously obscure firm at the centre of the scandal, was sensible particularly given it was a step Facebook was likely going to have to take in the end anyway.
The battered share price duly caught a breath ahead of the next stretch of choppy waters: The appearance of Mr Zuckerberg before the US congress.
For a normal CEO that could still have represented a potential tipping point, an occasion for more investors to join the dissidents. But the Facebook CEO is not a normal CEO, subject to the sort of pressure and accountability normal CEOs face.
The only thing that can unseat Mr Zuckerberg is Mr Zuckerberg. Facebook has been set up to grant him absolute control. And investors allowed this to happen.
In point of fact, they’ve backed a string of tech company flotations marked by multiple classes of shares that either limit or completely strip them of their ability to influence the companies that they buy into.
Snap, the owner of messaging app Snapchat, took that to its natural conclusion via its voteless IPO last year. But Google, Groupon, LinkedIn, TripAdvisor, Zynga and more besides have managed to get away with variations on the theme.
Wall Street investors tamely acquiesced in the hopes that one or more of those horses come in, like the first of those did (and how), despite the very obvious risks.
Facebook is another winner. Those who bought in when the stock opened at $38.22 have still quadrupled their money, even after the recent share price falls Those who jumped in when they dipped below the $20 mark in the after market are booking party planners.
Business news: in pictures
Business news: in pictures
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Asked by reporters if his position had been discussed, Mr Zuckerberg’s response was “not that I know of”. But it wouldn't matter if it had been.
Numbers like that would limit calls for even a normal CEO to quit, let alone a man granted absolute power by his investors.
The prospect of finding Facebook 2.0 by backing the next Silicon Valley shooting star will keep future Zuckerbergs as safe as they want to be.