Boss Zuckerberg

I'm a lucky PhD supervisor: these days, my PhD students are all very productive, working on some really nice new papers. I am happy (and honored) to be a co-author on some of those papers. Others are written with other co-authors (and that too makes me happy). 

One tricky thing with being a PhD supervisor, is getting the PhD student to own the paper: realizing that he/she is in the drivers seat. Apart from many other things, there is of course one consequence of being in charge of a paper ánd having me as a co-author: having me as a co-author. Things get worse, when I am not just your co-author, but also your PhD supervisor….

I will not bore you with the details. My point is simply: leadership is not just determined by who is in charge. No. Really not. 

What reminded me of this was an article published about two weeks ago in the NY Times. The topic of the article: Mark Zuckerberg. I am not on Facebook, nor do I want to be (I know, the whole blog thing is pretty ironic). But I do know who Mark (can I say Mark) is. The article discussed the way in Mr. Zuckerberg has managed to be in control of Facebook, before and after the IPO. The article takes a pretty narrow, but very appropriate, definition of control, and focus on Mr. Zuckerbergs' shareholdings and voting rights.

In the words of Charles Elson, professor of corporate governance at the University of Delaware, "[Y]ou’re willing to take someone’s money but not willing to invite their participation." And "[I]t makes meaningless the notion of investor democracy." Not sure I'd agree with that (and I really mean I'm not sure, i.e., not sure whether or not I agree). 

The part that caught my intention was another quote in the article, from "one of his early advisers and a Facebook investor, who asked not to be identified in the run-up to the offering." Let me start with the first part of the quote:

"There is no problem he doesn’t think he can solve…"

Hmmm. Now, if my PhD student thought like this, I think a cup of coffee and a talk is in order. 

Then there is the second part of the quote:

"…but he constantly tries to find the smartest people he can to give him advice. Nearly universally, he asks them, ‘Who are the smartest people for me to talk to about this?"

Ok, now we're talking. I once asked my dad what was the number 1 mistake CEOs make (he used to be one). His answer: they decision not to hire someone who is better than them. Do I think Mr. Zuckerberg avoided the trap? I think he might. After all, he hired Sheryl Sandberg (google her, if you do not know her (pun intended)). And, yes, she is very, very good. But that is just my opinion…

© J.W.B. Bos 2014