Here’s one potential solution to help Facebook recover from its recent controversies: hire Brad Smith.
That’s the recommendation from Alex Stamos, Facebook’s former chief information security officer who thinks that the Microsoft president should replace Mark Zuckerberg as Facebook’s CEO.
Stamos, a security expert and Stanford researcher, made headlines last year after leaving Facebook following a series of disputes with top executives in the midst of the company’s response related to the Russian disinformation campaign.
Speaking at the Collision Conference in Toronto, Stamos recommended that Smith, a longtime Microsoft exec who became president in 2015, replace Zuckerberg as CEO to help the company get through some of the antitrust questions swirling around the social media giant.
“Facebook needs to have an internal revolution on the culture of how products are built,” Stamos said in an on-stage interview with Recode editor Kara Swisher. “There is actually a model for this, which was Microsoft in 2002. Microsoft was facing kind of the same level of pushback on core information security issues and they completely changed how the product works.”
Stamos said Zuckerberg has some ideas around that shift but there needs to be someone else who can lead the charge as CEO.
“There is a legit argument that [Zuckerberg] has too much power and he needs to give up some of that power,” Stamos said. “If I was him, I would go hire a new CEO for the company … a CEO that can help signal both internally and externally that the culture has to change.”
Stamos said Zuckerberg should focus on running product — “his passion” — while allowing someone like Smith to take over as CEO. He said Zuckerberg’s replacement should be “some adult who has gone through this before at another company.”
Zuckerberg actually approached Smith directly for advice, according to a story in December from The Information. “While the conversation didn’t involve a formal job offer, Mr. Smith still felt compelled to let Mr. Zuckerberg know he was happy at Microsoft and had no desire to leave, a person familiar with the talks said,” The Information reported.
Zuckerberg has also sought out help from Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, reported The Wall Street Journal, which noted that Gates “recommended Microsoft’s model, which relies on Brad Smith to oversee its corporate, external, and legal affairs.”
Smith and Stamos appeared on a panel together in Munich in February 2018.
Smith, speaking last year at a Recode event, talked about the similarities between what Microsoft faced back in the 1990s and early 2000s, and what Facebook is grappling with today.
“At bottom a lot of what we’re seeing today is people asking the tech sector, do you get it?” Smith said. “Do you understand that perhaps in the history of business, there has never been an economic sector quite so intertwined with every other economic sector. And there’s never been an industry that has been so global. I think that frankly, one of the things that Mark Zuckerberg did well when he testified was he said, ‘We understand that regulation may be in order.’ It’s a way of saying, we understand that government has a role and we have a responsibility.”
Smith, who reports directly to CEO Satya Nadella, first joined Microsoft in 1993 and became general counsel in 2002. He also currently serves as chief legal officer. Smith is releasing his first book later this year that details his company’s efforts to tackle privacy, cybercrime, AI and other digital challenges. He’s been vocal and visible in recent years on these issues as they relate to Microsoft and the broader tech industry.