Kara Swisher

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Facebook's Next Management Moves: The "Un-Zuckerberg?"

After BoomTown broke the news on Tuesday that longtime Facebook executive Owen Van Natta was leaving the social-networking site, we started hearing rumblings that the company will be making some significant management moves soon.

markzuckerberg

Sources with knowledge of the situation said the company is looking at naming a well-known tech executive to top management, as perhaps even a second-in-charge to Facebook CEO and Founder Mark Zuckerberg (pictured here), to give him more experienced support.

The effort is actually being pushed by Zuckerberg himself.

Those who have heard about the search say Facebook has a short list that includes prominent tech executives, including both men and women (which would be a needed change, since the top six execs at Facebook are currently all men, as you can see here on Facebook’s management page).

BoomTown has some headhunting suggestions of our own, which you can see here. But this is actually not such a new idea at Facebook.

Early last year, for example, Zuckerberg took a long look at former eBay exec Jeff Jordan, who was a contender for the top job there and who is now CEO of IPO-bound OpenTable, as a possible leadership partner.

While that right-hand-man job had been Van Natta’s role in the early days of Facebook, since then Zuckerberg changed his title from COO to Chief Revenue Officer.

In the recent set-up, Van Natta has joined a pool of other executives, none of whom seems to rise above the other.

The current key roster includes Vice President of Product Marketing and Operations Chamath Palihapitiya, a former AOL exec; longtime exec Matt Cohler, whose new title will be vice president of product management; CFO Gideon Yu (a former Yahoo and YouTube exec); Co-Founder and Vice President of Product Engineering Dustin Moskovitz; Jonathan Heiliger, VP of Technical Operations; and CTO Adam D’Angelo.

But some investors and company employees have suggested that this collective, with all major decisions being made by Zuckerberg, needs more structure that a single No. 2 exec might bring.

uncola

“I would call it hiring an Un-Zuckerberg,” said one source, a phrase that BoomTown is going to immediately slap on a T-shirt and sell on the site.

Translation: While it is clear that the 23-year-old is a true visionary and a product genius, he still lacks the experience in marketing, advertising, operations and general corporate leadership that will be needed if Facebook goes public in two years’ time.

But, said many sources close to the company, Zuckerberg is intent on remaining CEO of the start-up, which has had a series of ups (hypergrowth; the $240 million investment from Microsoft [MSFT] that valued Facebook at an eye-popping $15 billion) and downs (the Beacon advertising debacle; the $240 million investment Microsoft that valued Facebook at an insane $15 billion).

Zuckerberg flatly said that in a phone interview I did with him earlier this week about the Van Natta departure.

“Yes,” was his full answer when I asked him about whether he would remain in the top slot at the company. Pretty please, any more to add? “No.”

(Of course, that answer was not nearly as good as when Zuckerberg stopped “60 Minutes” correspondent Lesley Stahl in her tracks, after she asked in her recent piece about Facebook about him replacing the two founders of Google as Silicon Valley’s golden geek and he paused for a television eternity and flustering Stahl, before saying with zero affect: “Is that a question?” I still cannot decide if it was a moment of pure genius or absolute goofiness.)

In the interview with BoomTown, Zuckerberg also obliquely referred to more management changes, noting the Van Natta departure was just the beginning.

Last week, that included adding two key Van Natta hires–biz dev head Dan Rose and ad sales head Mike Murphy–to the core executive team.

But neither of them makes for a more dramatic move that some expect.

“It has to be someone who does not overshadow Mark,” said one person who is familiar with the company. “But also someone who can challenge him when he needs challenging. And everyone needs challenging.”

Just like the Cola/Uncola paradigm, in fact, which is BoomTown’s personal and business philosophy.

And who better to give you a primer on that wisdom than the most excellent Geoffrey Holder in this classic television commercial:

Please see this disclosure related to me and Google.


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— Om Malik on Bloomberg TV, talking about Yahoo, the September issue of Vogue Magazine, and our overdependence on Google