Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, the noted author of the white-hot book Lean In, is everywhere these days.
CBS's 60 Minutes profiled her (quite flatteringly). She's the talk of the book industry and the flashpoint of the feminism community everywhere.
Sandberg is also an icon among Facebook shareholders -- or should be regarded as one, in case you haven't thought about her in those exalted terms. Many Facebook holders are still smarting from their company's woeful early performance as a newly publicly traded entity. Those wounds ran deep, as the much-hyped Facebook shares became the Titanic of the stock market.
Over the past year, you might say that Sandberg's greatest corporate accomplishment has been to come across as what I like to call "The Anti-Zuck." As a high-ranking Facebook executive, of course, Sandberg was deeply involved in all of Facebook's decisions (and miscalculations), yet she seems to have escaped the goat's horns, which have fit so snugly around Mark Zuckerberg's neck -- whether that was fair or not.
In public, anyway, as she talks about Lean In, Sandberg radiates a cheerful, likable, and empathetic disposition, descriptions that escaped Zuckerberg during the IPO bomb. As you remember way back to last spring and summer, during the buildup, execution, and aftershock of Facebook's disastrous IPO on May 18, Zuckerberg seemed aloof to a point that his infamous hoodie could have posted this message: "I'm a billionaire -- and you're not."
It should be noted that Zuckerberg, since then, has impressed Wall Street. He came out on top in a survey released recently by Glassdoor. "This guy is absolutely shocking me in how mature he is behaving," Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter said in the report.
These days, Sandberg wants (and needs) to be well liked because she's trying to sell her book.
Take the subject of Lean In -- namely, as Sandberg sees it, the failure of women to assert themselves in financial and other contractual negotiations. Sandberg laments that women can't be more like men, in this instance, and stand up for themselves where it matters: in the wallet. She knows she's setting herself up for criticism because very few women (or, for that matter, men) have had her advantages in life.
Clearly, Sandberg herself has never had a problem getting ahead. Her resume glitters like gold -- a good thing for Facebook Nation, too.
The shares have risen off the mat of the all-time low of $17.55 to get to the more respectable territory of the mid-$20s. Of course, that price level is still below the vaunted $38 figure, when Facebook was a brand-new stock, not to mention its steroid-like growth in the flush aftermath of the opening sales. Facebook's stock briefly climbed all the way to $45. But to say that Facebook should ever be a $45 stock is as unrealistic and implausible as declaring that every baseball superstar is squeaky clean in the age of the sport's era of performance-enhancing drugs.
Sandberg is the ideal executive to serve as the face of Facebook right now. Through the massive hype surrounding the publication and promotion of Lean In, she will be on television constantly, reinforcing the virtues of a life well spent firmly in the bosom of capitalism.
On 60 Minutes, Sandberg comported herself well. She didn't seem like an elitist (even though she might just be one). Instead, ever-earnest and eager to please, she projected an image of accomplishment and bonhomie, coming across more as a likable cheerleader than an overbearing teacher. You wouldn't catch this Sheryl Sandberg raising her hand to protest that the class hadn't yet received a homework assignment.
Speaking on 60 Minutes, Sandberg happily repeated the themes of Lean In. She said: "I am not saying that everyone has the resources or opportunities I have. But I am saying we need to help women own the power and learn how to negotiate for raises, get the pay they deserve."
In the long run, if you're a Facebook stockholder, you probably don't give a hoot about the merits of Lean In. Nor should you. What matters the most is that Sandberg had the chutzpah to speak her mind, understanding that her personal views might ruffle both people who regard themselves as feminists and those who most certainly do not.
What matters is that Facebook Nation has Sheryl Sandberg on its side, fighting its good fight. She projects confidence and a sense of purpose, which is what shareholders should always seek in their executives.
Fool contributor Jon Friedman owns no stock in any of the companies mentioned in this column. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Facebook, Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.