As chief operating officer of Meta, Sheryl Sandberg was one of the company’s most prominent voices for more than a decade. Sandberg announced her departure from Meta (formerly Facebook) on Wednesday, and longtime employee Javier Olivan will now assume the COO role. But don’t expect to see as much of Olivan.
Whereas Sandberg, in many ways, was partners with founder Mark Zuckerberg, the COO role is being reworked into a “more traditional COO role where [Olivan] will be focused internally and operationally,” Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post.
Olivan confirmed that he’d be less visible in a subsequent Facebook post of his own, writing, “With some exceptions, I don’t anticipate my role will have the same public-facing aspect, given that we have other leaders at Meta who are already responsible for that work.”
Despite those changes, the COO role remains a critical one. And to most, Olivan is an unknown; it’s time for Facebook-watchers to get to know Javi, as he’s affectionately called.
Accumulating users and power
Olivan joined Facebook in 2007, right after picking up his MBA at Stanford University—at which point, the company had just 40 million users, the majority of whom were in the U.S. He was a founding member of the company’s growth team, which was dedicated to scaling up Facebook’s membership base. He proved more than capable of the task at hand.
The growth team quickly became a powerful operation within the company, generally tapped when Zuckerberg saw high potential in a feature. That let Olivan accumulate power within the company.
That team was one of the first to have a data-driven approach to growth. Today, the growth team, which Olivan heads, has tremendous influence within Facebook. Even social-good projects now have metrics attached to them, rather than focusing solely on their aspirational qualities—a direct result of growth-oriented thinking.
The growth team also was responsible for steering Facebook toward acquiring Snaptu, an Israeli startup that created a stripped-down version of Facebook that could run on older phones and didn’t require a high-speed network. That tech eventually became Facebook Lite, which has been key to the company’s trajectory. As of 2017, Facebook had 200 million Lite users in such countries as Vietnam, Bangladesh, and Nigeria.
Since May of 2018, Olivan’s title has been chief growth officer.
“I’ve primarily been behind-the-scenes, focused on working with our teams to build products that serve billions of people and millions of businesses around the world,” he wrote in Wednesday’s Facebook post. “As Meta continues to grow, one of my biggest priorities will be to ensure that the business products and partnerships sides of our company are in lockstep. I think these orgs can continue learning a lot from each other and will benefit from being even more tightly linked.”
Big leaps aren’t something new for Olivan. As a child in Spain, he would paraglide in the Pyrenees mountains, he told The Alumni Society, a network of Latino leaders. Before he made his way to Facebook, he dreamed of being an engineer, an ambition that led him to a job at Siemens, where he gathered an interest in mobile communication; and later to Nippon Telegraph and Telephone in Japan, where he focused on wireless video.
Like so many, he was intrigued by the images of optimism and pragmatism emanating from Silicon Valley in the early aughts. He enrolled at Stanford in 2005, during which time he became an early user of Facebook (back when the site still required a college email address to sign up). He was in the process of creating a Spanish version of the social network when Zuckerberg reached out and asked him to head international growth.
Like many longtime Facebook employees, he has also dabbled in angel investing and was recently involved in a Series A round for Yaba, a brand amplifier startup. Other investments include payment API startup Reloadly and tutoring tool GoPeer.
And while he’s not paragliding as much these days, if you were to peek into Olivan’s office in Meta, there’s a good chance you’d see his surfboard leaning against the wall. With his new COO responsibilities, though, it might be a while before he’s able to catch the next wave.