The ‘adult in the room’ is heading out
In 2008, Sheryl Sandberg joined Facebook and soon became one of the most famous business leaders who was not a C.E.O. Sandberg, the chief operating officer of what is now Meta, announced yesterday that she would be leaving in the fall. The decision was her own, two of her employees told The Times. The timing of the announcement, about a half-hour before the close of trading, suggests that the company was not overly concerned about her exit’s impact.
In an interview with The Times, Sandberg said she planned to focus on her personal philanthropy and her foundation. She’s also getting married. “Have we gotten everything right? Absolutely not,” Sandberg, who will remain on Meta’s board, said. “Have we learned and listened and grown and invested where we need to? This team has and will.”
Sandberg is leaving Meta at a time when Mark Zuckerberg, its C.E.O. and founder, has begun an aggressive effort to take it in a new direction, embracing the so-called metaverse. DealBook asked our colleague Mike Isaac, who has long reported on Meta and is working on a book about the Zuckerberg-Sandberg era of Facebook, for his thoughts on Sandberg’s departure.
Some folks are wondering what this switch means for Mark and managing the future of his company, after Sheryl, who was for ages hailed as the first real adult in the room at Facebook. I would position it differently: Mark has been laying the groundwork for how to manage the future of Facebook, now Meta, for the better part of the past five years. So Sheryl’s actual departure, while sudden, is not a result of her being pushed, but rather having been put on a moving walkway years ago that was slowly headed for the door.
Donald Trump’s election and the realization that Facebook had effectively been hijacked led Mark to take a firmer grasp of the company. That meant less power for Sheryl, but also less centralized power in general at Facebook, with the elevation of other key figures, including people like the growth guru Javier Olivan, the C.T.O. Andrew “Boz” Bosworth and even Sir Nicholas Clegg, who is now president of global affairs. These executives — whose roles would have once reported to Sandberg — will get more autonomy in the new Meta management structure.
Sheryl’s exit underscores how challenging Meta’s next stage of growth will be. She gets enormous credit for building Facebook’s advertising business from scratch. But Mark’s newfound obsession with the metaverse presents an entirely new challenge, and a new model for making money. Sandberg’s exit suggests that’s not a job she wants.
As for politics, it’s entirely possible that Sheryl tries to rehab her image over time and gives it a shot. It’s a much more difficult path than it was five years ago, when Facebook had a better public image. But I do think there’s absolutely a future in which she makes a comeback as a C.E.O. at a Fortune 500 company in the coming years — just not right now.
That is, I imagine she will take the time to distance herself somewhat from the “Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook” persona that she spent 14 years carving out, and start to inhabit the role of “Sheryl Sandberg, operator.”
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING
The Education Department forgives $5.8 billion in loans for students of Corinthian Colleges. In its largest-ever student loan forgiveness action, the Education Department will wipe out the debt of 560,000 borrowers who had attended the for-profit college chain that collapsed in 2015.
Companies that help Russian oligarchs hide their assets are under scrutiny. A U.S. government task force is looking at two firms run by a Russia-born entrepreneur, Evgeniy Kochman, that manage yachts and villas for the rich, according to a Times investigation. Kochman’s Imperial Yachts oversaw the construction of a superyacht that U.S. officials say is linked to Vladimir Putin.
Job openings decline slightly. Employers had 11.4 million vacancies in April, according to the Labor Department, down from a revised total of nearly 11.9 million the previous month, which was a record. The numbers reflect continued high demand for labor, with nearly two available jobs for every person looking for work.
Two former MGM executives take leading positions at Warner Bros. Pamela Abdy and Michael De Luca will be co-chairs and chief executives of the film division of Warner Bros. Discovery. Abdy and De Luca, who shepherded films like “No Time to Die,” “House of Gucci” and “Licorice Pizza,” left MGM in April after that studio’s purchase by Amazon.
Hedge funds are growing more pessimistic about the outlook for stocks. A number of top-performing managers have become more bearish on the prospect for global equities, according to the Financial Times. They include Lansdowne Partners’ Peter Davies and BlackRock’s Alister Hibbert, who runs BlackRock’s Strategic Equity hedge fund.
Crypto crime proves nothing is new
Manhattan prosecutors yesterday accused a former employee of OpenSea, an auction site for the digital goods known as nonfungible tokens, or NFTs, of insider trading. Nathaniel Chastain, a 31-year-old former product manager at OpenSea, is accused of using his knowledge of which NFTs would be featured on the site’s home page to secretly purchase from those collections in advance, and then profit when auctions increased their value.
“Today’s charges demonstrate the commitment of this office to stamping out insider trading — whether it occurs on the stock market or the blockchain,” said Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. The charges reinforce the message that the Justice Department has been sending since last year as it has grown its crypto enforcement team and prosecuted digital asset fraud: The cops are keeping up with the times when it comes to crime.
Anonymous digital wallets and accounts made the apparent fraud possible. Last summer, Chastain bought about 45 NFTs on at least 11 occasions, selling them at two to five times as much as what he paid, according to the indictment. He moved cryptocurrency and digital collectibles among anonymous Ethereum wallets and OpenSea accounts he had set up. The criminal case may be the first of its kind, but NFT frauds and hacks are common, and the case lends credence to the concerns of some critics that the culture of anonymity on blockchain platforms attracts untrustworthy actors.
What is an NFT really worth? Proponents say NFTs create a new kind of value by authenticating ownership of digital files of all kinds, including art, audio and video. Last year, these assets blossomed in the cultural consciousness, and soon it seemed like almost everyone was into NFTs. Chastain rode that wave. While insider trading usually involves publicly traded securities, the indictment does not get into whether NFTs fall into that category. It focuses instead on Chastain’s abuse of OpenSea’s confidential business information, which violated an agreement he signed when he was hired.
Chastain was arrested yesterday and charged with one count of wire fraud and one count of money laundering, each of which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years. If convicted, Chastain will have to forfeit the NFTs he bought in the scheme. Will any potential notoriety from the case increase the value of his collectibles? Perhaps they’ll be auctioned on OpenSea again. (The company did not respond to a request for comment on the case.)
“It’s a hurricane. Right now, it’s kind of sunny, things are doing fine. Everyone thinks the Fed can handle this. That hurricane is right out there, down the road, coming our way. We just don’t know if it’s a minor one or superstorm Sandy.”
— Jamie Dimon, C.E.O. of JPMorgan Chase, speaking at an investment conference yesterday. He was one of a number of top Wall Street executives who warned of a weakening economy.
Vertical farms attract V.C. dollars
The fragility of the world’s food supply has been in the spotlight, as the war in Ukraine traps millions of tons of grain that are desperately needed in Egypt, Yemen and elsewhere. This has helped supercharge interest in agricultural technology, or agtech.
“Record high fertilizer prices, war-borne grain shortages and poor weather have created extraordinarily challenging conditions to meet growing global food demand,” the investment research firm PitchBook wrote in a recent report. “Biofertilizers, field robotics and indoor farming technologies will be essential in overcoming these challenges.”
There was record investment in agtech last year, and the deals keep coming. V.C.s invested $10.5 billion across 751 deals in agtech start-ups in 2021, a deal value increase of more than 58 percent over 2020, PitchBook says. That uptick came as climate extremes hurt farming yields, and as awareness of scarcity grew because of pandemic-related supply chain issues. This year, the pressure to find new, sustainable growing methods has intensified, so vertical farming start-ups — mostly indoor operations that grow crops in stacked racks instead of fields — are finding funding.
Vertical farms solve some but not all agricultural problems. They save space, can be built almost anywhere, are climate-controlled and easy to automate, and they require less water, nutrients and soil than a traditional field. But high-tech farms cost a lot to build, consume huge amounts of energy if poorly designed and can’t accommodate all crops. Perishable produce like leafy greens, berries, and tomatoes flourish in vertical farms, while the grains the world relies upon don’t grow well indoors.
Analysts suspect that rising food prices may nonetheless make vertical farming increasingly attractive and profitable, which is why V.C.s are intrigued and agtech executives are optimistic. “Agriculture is really at the epicenter right now of so many of the global challenges we’re experiencing, and it’s been at the epicenter of the climate crisis,” Irving Fain, founder and C.E.O. of the vertical grower Bowery Farming, told DealBook. “When you look at Russia, Ukraine, what you’re seeing is the world awakening to the reality that food is national security, and food is sovereignty.”
THE SPEED READ
The private equity firm KKR and its partners are seeking bids for Ramsay Health Care’s $5.8 billion real estate portfolio. (Bloomberg)
Glencore is likely to reject a Chinese offer for its minority stake in the coal producer Yancoal Australia. (Reuters)
The British pharmaceuticals giant GSK plans to spin off its consumer health unit, Haleon, next month. (Bloomberg)
The F.B.I.’s director said the agency thwarted a planned cyberattack on a Boston children’s hospital. (AP)
A Brooklyn subway shooting victim sued the gun maker Glock. (NYT)
Maybe what the economy needs is not more, but less — less hiring, less wage growth and less inflation. (NYT)
Best of the rest
Wall Street’s love affair with SPACs is sputtering. (NYT)
The coffee chain Tim Hortons violated Canadian law by continually tracking people with its mobile app, an investigation found. (Toronto Star)
Doctors transplant a 3-D printed ear made from the recipient’s own cells. (NYT)
“Through Weeks of Depp v. Heard, Dior Stood By” (NYT)
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