You've heard of setting the bar high. With one massive deal, Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) and its CEO, 29-year-old Mark Zuckerberg, just strapped rockets to that bar and launched it into the stratosphere. The social network's $19 billion buyout of mobile messaging service WhatsApp set several records this week, and it's bound to be hotly debated for months, or even years, to come.
For most of us, the audacity of this deal is unimaginable, but for Zuckerberg, it's become par for the course. From his Harvard dorm room to the heights of the stock market -- on which only 17 companies out of roughly 5,000 boast a larger market capitalization -- Zuckerberg has led Facebook with a swashbuckling bravado (in psychological circles it might be described as a form of sociopathy) that belies his (increasingly less) awkward public persona.
Could Mark Zuckerberg be the gutsiest CEO in the world today? Just look at some of the most notable or otherwise infamous events in Facebook's history and judge for yourself.
2002: As a senior in high school, Zuckerberg codes an MP3 media player called Synapse with fellow student Adam D'Angelo. The program, which uses machine learning to analyze listening patterns, attracts attention from Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and AOL, which offer Zuckerberg (in his own retelling) as much as $2 million to obtain the rights. Zuckerberg rejects the offers and offers Synapse for free online.
Oct. 28, 2003: Zuckerberg hacks into Harvard's "facebook" pages to obtain photos for Facemash, a proto-Facebook (a "hot or not" picture-rating site for Harvard students). The site goes live in the evening while a drunken Zuckerberg compares some fellow classmates to farm animals on his personal blog.
Oct. 30, 2003: Zuckerberg shuts Facemash down after enduring a firestorm of criticism from fellow students. The site did not, as depicted in The Social Network, crash Harvard's servers.
Nov. 19, 2003: Harvard charges Zuckerberg with breaching security, violating copyrights, and violating individual privacies by creating Facemash. Fortuitously, the university does not expel him.
Nov. 30, 2003: Zuckerberg meets with Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss and Divya Narendra to discuss building "Harvard Connection," which is described as a social network available only to Harvard students with the intention of gradually rolling out the site to other universities across the country -- essentially, the first version of Facebook.
Dec. 7, 2003: Zuckerberg brags to eventual Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin that the Winklevii "made a mistake" by asking him to create Harvard Connection, and promises that the site will be delayed until after his own project, "the facebook," launches.
Jan. 14, 2004: Zuckerberg tells a friend via instant message that he's going to, shall we say, perform a crude act, "probably in the ear," in regard to his obligations to the Winklevii and his own competing project.
Feb. 4, 2004: Facebook, as thefacebook.com, opens its virtual doors to Harvard students. In its first day online, nearly 1,500 students join thefacebook.com. The site is financially supported by Eduardo Saverin, who eventually invests a total of $30,000 in the venture for a 34% equity stake.
Feb. 10, 2004: Cameron Winklevoss privately accuses Zuckerberg of breaching his agreement regarding the creation of Harvard Connect, which will eventually launch in the summer as "ConnectU."
May 28, 2004: Zuckerberg hacks into the email accounts of two writers at Harvard's Crimson newspaper to ensure that they would not run a feature supporting the Winklevii's accusations of fraud.
June 2004: Facebook receives an unsolicited $10 million buyout offer, which is quickly rejected.
August 2004: Zuckerberg, now living in Palo Alto, Calif., opens a corporate account at a local bank with Sean Parker, who becomes the company's first president at this time.
Sept. 2, 2004: The Winklevii sue Zuckerberg and Facebook for breach of contract regarding the theft of their Harvard Connection idea, with damage estimates initially exceeding $75,000.
Sept. 27, 2004: Venture capitalist Peter Thiel invests $500,000 in Facebook for a 10% stake, valuing it at $5 million.
Oct. 31, 2004: Eduardo Saverin gives up his voting rights in Facebook for 3 million shares.
December 2004: Facebook signs up its 1 millionth user. The site now accepts users from several elite universities.
Jan. 7, 2005: Zuckerberg forces Facebook to issue 9 million new shares, none of which are awarded to Saverin. Saverin's stake, which was initially 34%, is now less than 10%.
March 2005: Viacom (NASDAQ:VIA) makes a $75 million buyout offer for Facebook, which is rejected.
April 2005: Saverin sues Zuckerberg and Facebook over the dilution of his stake.
May 2005: Thiel leads a second round of funding with Accel Partners, investing $12.7 million in the social network at an $87.5 million valuation.
December 2005: Facebook has more than 5 million users.
March 2006: Viacom again tries to buy Facebook. Zuckerberg estimates the site's value at $2 billion, but Viacom responds with a $1.5 billion offer. Zuckerberg rejects the deal.
April 2006: A third round of funding raises $27.5 million at a valuation of $500 million.
Sept. 21, 2006: Yahoo! (NASDAQ: YHOO) makes a reported $1 billion offer to buy Facebook. The offer is eventually lowered to $850 million, which is rejected in minutes.
Sept. 26, 2006: Facebook opens itself to the public.
December 2006: Facebook has more than 12 million users.
October 2007: Facebook has more than 50 million users.
Oct. 24, 2007: Microsoft announces a $240 million investment in Facebook. Its 1.6% stake gives the social network an eye-popping valuation of $15 billion. At age 23, Mark Zuckerberg becomes the youngest self-made billionaire in history.
June 26, 2008: Facebook and Zuckerberg reach a settlement with the Winklevoss twins for a reported $65 million.
August 2008: Facebook signs up its 100 millionth user.
July 21, 2010: Facebook reaches 500 million users.
Sept. 22, 2010: Zuckerberg donates $100 million to the Newark, N.J., public school district.
Oct. 1, 2010: The Social Network premieres in theaters. It's the first major motion picture to cover the rise of a single tech company, and eventually wins four Golden Globes and three Academy Awards.
Dec. 9, 2010: Zuckerberg signs the Giving Pledge -- a philanthropic effort led by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett -- pledging to donate at least half of his wealth to charity.
Jan. 2, 2011: Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) leads a $500 million investment round in Facebook that values the social network at $50 billion.
April 9, 2012: Facebook buys Instagram for $1 billion.
May 18, 2012: Facebook goes public at a peak first-day market capitalization of $104 billion, making it the largest IPO by market cap in history. Facebook raises $16 billion and 28-year-old Mark Zuckerberg ends the day with a net worth of $19.1 billion, making him the 29th-richest person in the world.
Oct. 4, 2012: Facebook signs up its 1 billionth member.
Dec. 19, 2013: Zuckerberg donates 18 million shares of Facebook stock to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, which (at a value of roughly $1 billion) makes Zuckerberg the most generous charitable giver in the world for the entire year.
Feb. 19, 2014: Facebook's $19 billion acquisition of WhatsApp is the largest buyout of a start-up in history.
From dorm-room dreams to digital dominance, Mark Zuckerberg has built an empire few could even dream of, let alone accomplish, and he's done it all in just one decade. Do you think Mark Zuckerberg is the gutsiest CEO in the world? Are other top executives bolder and more relentless in their pursuit of corporate success? How will Zuckerberg's boldness affect Facebook in the years to come? Let us know what you think by leaving a comment below -- and don't forget to click "like" on the Facebook button to the left of this article when you're done.