Sheryl Sandberg, speaking in Paris in 2017, said last week she would be leaving her role as chief operating officer of Facebook parent Meta Platforms.
Photo: philippe wojazer/Reuters
The lawyers investigating Facebook operating chief
use of corporate resources are examining behavior going back several years, said people familiar with the matter, focusing on the extent to which staffers worked on her personal projects.
A number of employees have been interviewed as part of the investigation by Facebook parent
Meta Platforms Inc.,
the people said, adding that the review has been under way since at least last fall.
It includes an examination of the work Facebook employees did to support her foundation, Lean In, which advocates for women in the workplace, as well as the writing and promotion of her second book “Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy,” which focused on her grieving process following the sudden death of her husband,
CEO Dave Goldberg, in 2015, the people said.
The Wall Street Journal previously reported that the investigation included a review of Ms. Sandberg’s use of corporate resources to help plan her coming wedding. That is a small piece of the investigation, according to the people familiar with the matter, who said it involves a broader review of Ms. Sandberg’s personal use of Facebook’s resources over many years.
Ms. Sandberg, 52 years old, announced last week she was resigning from her day-to-day role after 14 years, though she said she would continue to serve on the board of directors. Ms. Sandberg has been the longtime lieutenant to Chief Executive
and in that role—and as the author of the leadership book “Lean In”—became one of the most prominent women in business. Ms. Sandberg said she was looking forward to spending more time on her foundation and women’s issues.
Ms. Sandberg has told friends and co-workers that she decided to step down because she was burned-out and weary of continuing her role as a “punching bag” for
critics. She also sees Mr. Zuckerberg’s pivot to the so-called metaverse as a multiyear project that she wasn’t eager to take on, not least because it doesn’t directly entail the use of her core strengths in building advertising businesses.
People close to Ms. Sandberg say that while the review has irked her in recent months, it played no role in her decision to leave the company later this year.
“Sheryl did not inappropriately use company resources in connection with the planning of her wedding,” a spokeswoman for Ms. Sandberg said last week.
spokeswoman declined to comment for this article.
It couldn’t be determined what prompted the investigation into her activities that began in the fall. Some people close to the company said these types of concerns involving Ms. Sandberg had circulated for some time. They said that as Ms. Sandberg’s power within the company appeared to erode in recent years, it became less daunting for internal critics to raise concerns about her management.
That Ms. Sandberg, along with Mr. Zuckerberg, use corporate resources for some personal matters is no secret. The company already makes extensive disclosures about her and Mr. Zuckerberg’s use of corporate resources for certain personal matters. Ms. Sandberg also cited a number of Facebook employees in the acknowledgments section of Option B.
Ms. Sandberg could be asked to repay the company for employee time spent on her personal work, some of the people said. Some within
close to the investigation worry about potential Securities and Exchange Commission violations if Ms. Sandberg used professional resources for personal matters without adequate disclosures, although it isn’t yet clear what such violations might be, people familiar with the matter said.
David Larcker, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business who focuses on corporate governance, said companies differ in what types of perks they approve for top executives but private jet use and security are often included. Some companies benchmark such benefits with their peers so they can stay competitive with executive compensation practices, whether corporate jet use, financial adviser assistance, country club memberships or otherwise. But using corporate employees who aren’t assistants for personal matters is more rare and likely requires board approval, he added.
Sheryl Sandberg, right, at an event promoting her book ‘Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy’ at a Miami book fair in 2017.
Photo: Johnny Louis/FilmMagic
board members have been frustrated with Ms. Sandberg’s handling of a situation in which she helped press a U.K. tabloid to shelve an article about her former boyfriend,
Activision Blizzard Inc.
and a 2014 temporary restraining order against him. The matter also became a part of the broader investigation, according to people familiar with the matter.
The Journal previously reported the Kotick issue and a spokeswoman for
said at the time: “Sheryl Sandberg never threatened the MailOnline’s business relationship with Facebook in order to influence an editorial decision.” Mr. Kotick has said it was his understanding that the Daily Mail didn’t run the story because it was untrue.
The probe into Ms. Sandberg’s activities follows a renewed effort within Facebook to boost the company’s regulatory compliance, following a $5 billion settlement with the Federal Trade Commission in 2019. Facebook hired its first chief compliance officer last year in order to beef up such checks and balances. Some parts of the investigation into Ms. Sandberg’s actions occurred after more stringent compliance practices were put in place at Meta, some of the people said.
Mr. Zuckerberg and other Facebook executives have sometimes used company resources, including private planes and staff time, to manage their personal affairs as well, according to securities filings, public documents and people familiar with the matter.
The reputation and safety of Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Sandberg have been long seen as inextricably linked to the company’s success. Facebook has hired professional pollsters to analyze their personal reputations, according to people familiar with the matter, because they were seen as connected to the image of the company overall.
People close to the executives say many of their activities—and of business executives broadly—aren’t strictly professional or personal but rather a bit of both and enrich them as leaders generally and help the company, including for recruiting.
Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Sandberg both use private planes for personal travel as part of their overall security program, according to Facebook’s latest proxy. Both executives also receive personal security at their residences as well as during personal travel, paid for by the company.
In 2021, Facebook paid nearly $9 million for Ms. Sandberg’s security at her homes and during personal travel and $2.3 million for costs related to her personal use of private planes, according to the company’s most recent proxy. Facebook spent $15.2 million on Mr. Zuckerberg’s security and $1.6 million in private plane costs.
Facebook staff assisted Ms. Sandberg during both of her book tours and in the acknowledgments of Option B, she thanked many employees for their assistance in putting the book together. It was also not uncommon for Facebook staffers to help Ms. Sandberg with work involving her foundation and sometimes assist with tasks for her family, according to people close to the matter.
Some people close to Ms. Sandberg said it was often more efficient to work that way.
Facebook employees also worked on Mr. Zuckerberg’s projects, including his 2017 tour of 30 American states, according to public records. One stop in Glacier National Park in Montana, Mr. Zuckerberg was joined by at least three full-time Facebook employees, according to public records.
At the time, he called it a “personal challenge.”
Write to Deepa Seetharaman at Deepa.Seetharaman@wsj.com and Emily Glazer at firstname.lastname@example.org