Of course, Sandberg is not your typical No. 2. While her international fame ballooned over the past year following the publication of Lean In, it is how the 44-year-old Sandberg has defined her role as COO and her relationship with her much younger boss that make her so unusual in the business world. There’s no one job description for COOs, but they are almost always inward-facing bureaucrats who make sure the trains run on time, cut a low profile, and toil in the shadow of their bosses. Sandberg, who declined to be interviewed for this article, does keep the trains on time, for sure. But she’s also a chief dealmaker and an ad sales honcho responsible for all of Facebook’s revenue; she taps her influential network to open doors; she travels the world to meet with politicians and channels the desires of the world’s biggest marketers in a language Facebook’s engineers understand. Over the past year, as Zuckerberg shifted gears to turn mobile services into Facebook’s top priority, she pushed the ads and operations teams to follow in lockstep. “She runs the business,” says Dan Rose, one of Facebook’s earliest business-side executives and one of Sandberg’s deputies, in charge of partnerships.
Sandberg’s hefty portfolio and her fluid, trusting relationship with Zuckerberg are liberating for him. She does all the things he doesn’t want to do so he can focus on what he likes: product and engineering. As part of that bargain, he’s given her space to be the public face of Facebook in many arenas, to roam far and wide — from Davos to Sun Valley — and to pursue extracurricular activities, like Lean In, with gusto. While tongues wag that Sandberg’s celebrity and her crusade for women in the workplace are distractions, they are a strategically invaluable asset for Facebook. “Lean In has done a lot more for Facebook than Facebook has done for Lean In,” Zuckerberg recently told employees. The result is this: While Zuckerberg is a celebrity in his own right — and the antihero of an Oscar-winning Hollywood film — Sandberg is not only the world’s most famous COO but also a rock star in business, politics, and popular culture, with unprecedented influence and reach.