The drumbeat of a looming recession gets 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 major brands such as Amazon, Microsoft, Coinbase, Twitter, Stripe, Salesforce, and Meta. Similarly, executive changes have occurred as a result of economic jitters, most notably the exit of Bob Chapek in favor of Bob Iger at Disney.
In such an environment, no one’s job is safe. That might be why on Nov. 22, Meta’s director of communications, Andy Stone, made the unusual decision to publicly respond to an unsubstantiated rumor from a blog that asserted that Zuckerberg might resign from his CEO position in 2023. In response to the rumor, Stone wrote on Twitter, “This is false.”
Although there’s nothing indicating such a rumor has any substance, Stone’s public reply has now put the idea on the table for all to consider. Meta’s stock has dropped by 67% since last year, and the company laid off 11,000 employees on Nov. 9, the biggest layoff in the company’s history.
But whether or not shareholders and board members are uneasy with Zuckerberg’s spending on the metaverse, he remains Meta’s controlling shareholder (with about 58% of voting shares), so he can’t be voted out of his CEO seat like Chapek. Nevertheless, the idea of a Meta led by a different leader with a new strategic vision would likely dramatically change the company’s profile.
If a new leader were installed at Meta, the most obvious change, probably at the board’s urging, would be slashing spending on all things metaverse. Zuckerberg has been spending about $10 billion a year on the company’s Reality Labs unit, all designed to get ahead of what he views as a fundamental change in how users interact with an internet he predicts will be more immersive.
Zuckerberg’s long-term vision might be headed in the right direction, but users haven’t been flocking to the company’s Horizon Worlds virtual reality (VR) social media app. Instead, most of the public excitement for Meta’s VR products is around games like Beat Saber and Population One.
In that vein, Meta would likely pull back on its new $1,500 Quest Pro headset platform. The device represents a nice update on Meta’s VR and now augmented reality (AR) hardware platform. Since it’s being targeted 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 would likely be singularly focused on its strength: gaming. That could lead to a game studio acquisition that might eventually fuel the metaverse platform that Meta is hoping to build. Additionally, as much as it might pain some VR superfans, the new company might also taper off its Quest and smartglasses hardware development (foreshadowed by the recent end of the Portal device). Instead, it would focus on software, historically, Meta’s strong suit) targeting VR and AR users on all hardware platforms.
Who would lead this newly metaverse-lite company? Since Zuckerberg has kept a tight hold on the reins, it’s not entirely clear who might be best suited to quickly step in. A couple of credible options, as well as one wild card pick:
Sheryl Sandberg: She knows the business and has long experience steering the ship even during the choppiest waters. And while it seems she’s closed that chapter of her life, departing the company this summer, when you have a good run, the door is always open for a return, as Iger proved at Disney.
The Winklevoss twins: Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss taking over Meta would be one of the most dramatic twists in corporate history, given the fight over control during Facebook’s early years. Such a scenario might seem far-fetched, but as recently as 2019, the twins held talks with Zuckerberg about possibly working together to integrate cryptocurrency into Meta’s platforms. Of course, the Winklevoss brothers are currently preoccupied with the contagion effects of the FTX scandal and how it might impact their Gemini crypto exchange. Still, the two have managed to offer a (seemingly) legitimate face to crypto, and might be able to similarly help steer Meta as it moves deeper into Web3.
Chris Cox: One of the longest-serving members of Meta’s team, serving as its chief product officer since 2005, Chris Cox left Meta in 2019 over what were said to be differences with Zuckerberg regarding the direction of the company. He returned in 2020 to resume serving in his previous role. If Zuckerberg were to move on, Cox is seen by many as the most logical choice to succeed him.