Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has had talks about becoming the new CEO of Disney, according to the New York Post:
The 44-year-old Sandberg already sits on the Disney board and is said to have had conversations about her interest.
But a source close to Sandberg tells Business Insider that the Post’s story is wrong. “It’s not true,” this source insists.
Current Disney CEO Bob Iger is set for mandatory retirement in two years — which is obviously fuelling speculation about who will replace him.
The rumour comes on the same day as Anne Sweeney, co-chairwoman of Disney Media Networks, stepped down from her role to become a director. The New York Times interpreted that move to mean Sweeney had learned she had no chance of succeeding Iger at Disney.
The impetus behind the rumour would thus be, did Sweeney leave because she heard Sandberg had the inside track? If so — again, this is speculation — Sweeney was misinformed, our source says.
The departure of Sandberg from Facebook would be both a blow to CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who recruited her personally to help steer Facebook through its IPO, yet not totally unexpected.
In addition to managing the social network, Sandberg has written a book, “Lean In,” heads a foundation advancing women’s interests, and is long-rumoured to be a potential future U.S. Treasury secretary. She recently nixed the idea she wanted to be a senator. But it has been assumed for a long time in Silicon Valley that Facebook would not be the capstone of Sandberg’s life’s work.
Sandberg would actually be an excellent Disney CEO, even if she doesn’t want the job.
She’s young (just 44), has kids, knows a ton about audience data and what goes viral in the digital age, and has an MBA and a degree in economics from Harvard. She previously held a senior position at Google. In person, she’s charmingly normal. And she’s great at handling the media.
At Facebook, Sandberg led the company (along with ad sales chief Carolyn Everson) as it positioned itself as a rival to primetime TV — one of Disney’s core businesses, via ESPN ABC, and Disney’s cable properties. Sandberg could often be heard repeating the mantra that Facebook’s audience was the equivalent of three Super Bowls per day.
There are two inside choices for Disney CEO, the Post says:
… industry executives say the board wanted to cast a wider net. “They’re not happy with the two main choices,” said another source.
Those executives are Chief Financial Officer James “Jay” Rasulo or parks chief Thomas Staggs.
The Post’s story is thinly sourced and gives no other concrete details. Sandberg is a Disney board member, and would obviously be in on such conversations even if she was not a candidate.
Zuckerberg would not have difficulty replacing Sandberg as COO at Facebook. But Sandberg would leave big shoes to fill. On earnings calls, it is clear that while Zuckerberg is comfortable talking about his vision and, to a lesser extent, the engineering challenges at Facebook, it’s Sandberg who is most au fait with the nuts and bolts of how Facebook actually makes money and delivers its numbers. She has spent about a year, for instance, trying to convince Wall Street to pay attention to Facebook’s massive mobile app download advertising business — a revenue line that analysts have only just woken up to.
Disney’s board also includes Twitter and Square founder Jack Dorsey — a sign that the company realises its future is digital and not based entirely in movies, rollercoasters and merchandising.
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