Why Facebook's COO Hire Yanks Google's Chain

Last Updated Mar 5, 2008 7:55 PM EST

Here's a noteworthy move: Sheryl Sandberg, who has been a star at Google since 2001, is jumping ship to be Facebook's chief operating officer. Kara Swisher broke the news over at BoomTown and the blogs are buzzing with speculation.

Google and Facebook are on a collision course: They might have collided already except that Google keeps stumbling on the social network front. Orkut has been a bust outside of Brazil, and Sergey Brin admitted he hasn't cracked the koan to monetizing ads on social networks. Facebook's hiring of Sandberg -- who oversaw AdWords, one of Google's greatest hits to date -- places at the helm of its operations an exec who not only knows how to make scads of money from online ads (her group reportedly accounted for half of Google's revenue last year), she's as well versed with Google's playbook as almost anyone. In time, Google could enter into a real horse race with Facebook.

As for Google, it's hard not to wonder how serious the brain drain is becoming. Lots of people have built up impressive credentials there, and are itching to try something new, to return to the culture of a smaller, younger company. Microsoft may be battling to catch up with Google, but in this one way Google is following Microsoft.

Who is Sandberg? Before Google, she worked at the Treasury department, where she had a close working relationship with Lawrence Summers. One of Summer's students at Harvard, Sandberg worked as his assistant at the Treasury, and became his cheif of staff when he became Secretary. She was also an economist at the World Bank, a position that helped prepare for a spot on the board of the Google Foundation. It's not known if she'll hold onto that position.

Sandberg was also mentioned in a Fortune story as someone who made a mistake that cost Google millions of dollars. Her boss Brin shrugged it off as a cost of taking risks that bring even bigger success. I wonder how easily Brin and others at Google are shrugging this move off.

  • Kevin Kelleher

    Kevin Kelleher writes a regular stock column at TheStreet.com and is a contributor to Wired, Popular Science, and GigaOm. He has previously worked as a reporter and editor at Bloomberg News, Wired News, and The Industry Standard.