Facebook’s new face.
During an interview with “The Today Show” in 2014, Priscilla Chan wished that more people would see her husband as she sees him. “I think it’s a shame when people don’t see the funny, thoughtful Mark that I know,” she said. “He is incredibly sensitive, he really cares about what other people need and really wants to be able to make someone else’s day.”
Her wish came true just a few months later, when Mark Zuckerberg spoke to a group of students at China’s Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management.
He addressed the audience almost entirely in Mandarin for a solid half hour, but really won everybody over at “hello”.
Occasionally referred to as the First Lady of Facebook, Priscilla remained fairly distant from the spotlight before and after their secretive backyard wedding, which took place on May 19, 2012, a day after Facebook’s stock market launch. However, this changed somewhat abruptly a couple of weeks ago, when she and Mark announced the birth of their daughter, Maxima (“Max”), and pledged to donate 99% of their Facebook shares to the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, their new charitable foundation which focuses on health and education.
Education is Priscilla’s number one passion. Being the daughter of Chinese-Vietnamese refugees, she grew up with her mom working two jobs and became a first-generation college student in her family. She taught science to middle school kids, graduated from Harvard with a BA in biology, and finished her pediatric residency in the summer of 2015. She learned Spanish after realizing that it could help her connect better with many of her patients, thus becoming fluent in a third language. Forbes has dubbed her a New Brand of Billionaire Bride, along with an elite group of women like Anne Wojcicki, Laurene Powell Jobs and Melinda Gates.
It’s easy to imagine how Priscilla, being a doctor and educator, may have had a strong influence on the philanthropy of her husband, a tech guy wearing a hoodie. However, this would be an extreme oversimplification. We should consider that the pair started dating over a decade ago, well before Facebook became a global sensation. While in their 20’s, they worked hard at designing their own individual trajectories while gradually building a life together. It was thru this long-term partnership that they consolidated a shared purpose, which they publicly unveiled on December 1st: to advance the human potential and promote equality.
Given their significant charitable efforts to date, this has clearly been in the making for years. The arrival of Max just helped bring their vision to life.
Not surprisingly, media headlines have focused primarily on the financial component of their announcement. But anyone who actually takes the time to read the letter will notice that the Chan-Zuckerberg pledge is not just about philanthropy as a side gig. It contains a rather profound and far-reaching message, at the core of which is an open invitation to all of humanity to try new ideas that will shape the world of tomorrow. And Facebook wants to become a major enabler for this.
In fact, the company plans to grow into a bigger and better “ecosystem”, as Mark commonly calls it. Acquiring more than ten startups (e.g. WhatsApp, Instagram and Oculus VR, among others) was just the beginning. More recently, it has committed huge resources to Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Augmented Reality (AR).
And one of its top global initiatives is to connect another four billion people to the internet.
Openness and connectedness are the main drivers for everything that Facebook develops, and it doesn’t require a big leap of creativity to see where one’s personal network of friends and the endless feed of photos, updates and ‘likes’ fit within that framework.
But let’s try to picture this increasingly sophisticated ecosystem being driven by the bigger idea of enhancing human life, thru the lens of science, health and education. Statistics show that 18–34 year-olds in the U.S. spend about 26 hours on Facebook every month. What will happen as the service gradually reaches more corners of the world, and becomes more discerning, more useful, more tailored to one’s needs, and more integrated?
A billion and a half people around the globe already use the core service. That’s a billion and a half faces leaving an imprint in our global network on any given day.
But here’s a little thing to reflect on: what kind of imprint are you leaving, as a member of this community?
The one who’s arguably making the most meaningful imprint is its co-founder and CEO, now 31, who continues to be a regular user by sharing his interests, activities and insights. It’s possible that a vast majority of people still perceives Mark as the sleep-deprived, egocentric and anti-social brat launching a website in his dorm room for no other reason than having fun.
How could that same individual have morphed into a virtual statesman who frequently visits with presidents and prime ministers? How could that college drop-out kid have matured enough to be able to hire and motivate the most brilliant minds in the business, some of whom are old enough to be his parents? How could a Jewish-raised, hyperactive coder have fallen in love, and conceived a child, with a soft-spoken doctor of Asian descent? And for that matter, how could an American CEO have learned a foreign language to create a long-term dialogue with a country that won’t even take his product?
Although analysts and writers rarely seem to mention this freckle-faced unicorn when they list examples of best leadership practices, Mark has been able to assemble and keep one of the most cohesive leadership teams in the tech sector. It’s noteworthy that he usually hires senior-level people from whom he can learn new things. In the process, he has led the company into becoming a $290 billion-dollar business, which is equivalent to the GDP of Israel.
While he has come a long way, he seems much more interested in the road ahead — for himself, Priscilla, Max, and everyone who already is and isn’t on Facebook. What stands out more than anything else, though, is his commitment to self-development. Part of his new year’s resolution for 2015 was a little side project thru which he committed to reading two books a month and sharing his impressions. You’d be probably surprised to see some of the stuff that’s on his list.
When we think of Facebook, we tend to visualize an infinite collection of faces, but we seldom realize how multifaceted, multidimensional and metamorphic each one of us can actually be.
Saying that Mark wants to leave his imprint in the world falls short of describing his expansive personal journey. By constantly reframing his company’s potential and living up to its brand mission, he has also taken it upon himself to constantly redefine what it means to be Mark Zuckerberg; and what it means to be human.
As Michael Dell once put it, “try never to be the smartest person in the room; and if you are, I suggest you invite smarter people … or find a different room.”