Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Denoting Demoting

In yesterday’s post about the change of Facebook COO Owen Van Natta’s title from chief operating officer to chief revenue officer and vice president of operations, some at the company and close to it apparently took issue with my characterization of the move.


More particularly, some did not agree with my use of the word “demotion,” even though I qualified it in several places (“a bit of,” “in title at least” and “what many assumed”) and also made it clear that Van Natta, pictured right, would still have big responsibilities.

I wrote:

In the moves, it appears that COO Owen Van Natta has gotten a bit of a demotion, in title at least, moving from his perch in the last two weeks as chief operating officer to chief revenue officer and vice president of operations. It leaves him in charge of large swatches of the company, including technical operations and the ad business, but takes away what many assumed was his No. 2 slot to Zuckerberg.”

I also took pains to let Facebook have its say on how they looked at the change, noting that PR head Brandee Barker said the new job was not a lessening of Van Natta’s duties, but an “expansion of its management team” by the 23-year-old Mark Zuckerberg–who co-founded Facebook and is its CEO–due to the growth.

But the fact of the matter is that a drop to a vice president title and even a loftier chief revenue officer one is of lower position than a COO–a “reduction in rank” is one of the definitions of a demotion.

More substantially, with the spate of new top hires at Facebook (here is a scorecard for you), many of the parts of the company Van Natta previously had purview over are no longer under his leadership.

I certainly can grasp the concept of characterizing the shift in the status of Van Natta, whom I have great regard for from my time covering him at Amazon to now, to getting a smaller piece, but of a fast-growing and presumably bigger and bigger pie (meaning pie-wise, a bigger helping in the end).

And companies, especially start-ups in hyperdrive, have to re-evaluate their management structure to get to the next level. In fact, putting in a deep management bench is a positive development at Facebook.

If so, then I am not sure why Facebook did not just announce the move when it happened (weeks ago) and make a big deal of its great sense.

Why not? Because of perceptions, which are entirely accurate. The arrival of new executives at the company, especially ones with experience and ambition that one wants, inevitably was going to mean a new power-sharing arrangement and, of course, a lessening of duties for Van Natta. In other words, a demotion.


That would have been true for anyone in that close-to-the-top spot, who is not, well, Mark Zuckerberg (pictured here).

And it will also mean–as calm as this group seems to be compared to a lot of companies I have covered–an also inevitable jockeying for influence and the corporate infighting that is a product of that.

With the popularity of Facebook growing to more than 30 million users, bigger companies sniffing around with multibillion-dollar offers and a possible blockbuster IPO, stakes are on the rise to get it right (and, really, not blow it) at Facebook.

So while Zuckerberg and others have done a stellar job building a very good Web property, managing his managers is probably going to be one of the more interesting challenges going forward for the young leader.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik