The drumbeat of an impending recession is growing louder and continues to claim jobs in the form of mass layoffs and executive departures. Tech companies have laid off 33,000 workers since October, including big brands such as Amazon, Microsoft, Coinbase, Twitter, Stripe, Salesforce and Meta. Similarly, management changes have taken place due to economic jitters, including the exit of Bob Chapek in favor of Bog Iger at Disney.
In such an environment, no one’s job is secure. Perhaps that’s why on Nov. 22, Meta communications director Andy Stone took the unusual step of publicly responding to an unsubstantiated blog post that claimed Zuckerberg might step down as CEO in 2023. In response to the rumour, Stone wrote on Twitter, “Wrong.”
While there’s no indication that such a rumor is true, Stone’s public response has now put the idea on the table for all to consider. Shares of Meta have fallen 67% since last year and the company laid off 11,000 employees on November 9, the biggest layoff in the company’s history.
But whether or not shareholders and board members are uncomfortable with Zuckerberg’s spending in the metaverse, he remains Meta’s majority shareholder (with about 58% of voting shares), he therefore cannot be removed from his CEO seat like Chapek. Nevertheless, the idea of a Meta led by a different leader with a new strategic vision would probably change the profile of the company drastically.
Deconstructing (most of) the metaverse would come first
If a new leader were installed at Meta, the most obvious change, probably at the behest of the board, would be to cut spending on everything metaverse. Zuckerberg has spent around $10 billion a year on the company’s Reality Labs unit, all designed to preempt what he sees as a fundamental shift in how users interact with an internet he predicts will be more immersive.
Zuckerberg’s long-term vision might be heading in the right direction, but users haven’t flocked to the company’s Horizon Worlds virtual reality (VR) social media app. Instead, most of the public enthusiasm for Meta’s VR products is for games like Beat Saber and Population One.
In that vein, Meta would likely retire its new $1,500 Quest Pro headset rig. The device represents a nice update to Meta’s VR and now Augmented Reality (AR) hardware platform. Since it’s aimed at business customers who have been slow to adopt AR devices like Microsoft’s HoloLens and the Magic Leap headset, the decision to enter the space may be a luxury Meta can’t afford.
If the VR unit survives new leadership, it will likely focus singularly on its strength: gaming. This could lead to a game studio acquisition that could eventually fuel the metaverse platform that Meta hopes to build. Plus, while it might hurt some VR superfans, the new company might also cut back on its Quest hardware development and smartglasses (foreshadowed by the recent demise of the Portal device). Instead, it would focus on software (historically Meta’s forte) targeting VR and AR users across all hardware platforms.
Addition of a charismatic leader who knows the business
Who would lead this new metaverse-lite company? Given that Zuckerberg has kept a tight grip on the reins, it’s not entirely clear who might be in the best position to step in quickly. Some credible options, as well as a wild card choice:
Sheryl Sandberg: She knows the job and has a long experience at the helm of the ship, even in the roughest waters. And while it seems like she’s closed that chapter of her life, leaving the company this summer, when you have a good run, the door is always open for a comeback, as Iger proved to Disney.
The Winklevoss Twins: Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss taking control of Meta would be one of the most dramatic twists in the company’s history, given the struggle for control during Facebook’s early years. Such a scenario may seem far-fetched, but as recently as 2019 the twins held talks with Zuckerberg about the possibility of working together to integrate cryptocurrency into Meta’s platforms. Of course, the Winklevoss brothers are currently concerned about the contagion effects of the FTX scandal and its potential impact on their crypto exchange Gemini. Still, the two have managed to provide a (seemingly) legitimate face to crypto, and may be able to similarly help steer Meta as it progresses into Web3.
Chris Cox: One of the longest serving members of the Meta team, serving as Chief Product Officer since 2005, Chris Cox left Meta in 2019 over what were said to be differences with Zuckerberg regarding the company management. He returned in 2020 to resume his duties in his previous role. If Zuckerberg were to move on, Cox is seen by many as the most logical choice to succeed him.
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