Kara Swisher

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The Quiet Man: Meet the Less-Known Face of the Facebook IPO, CFO David Ebersman

Ever heard of David Ebersman?

You should, and this week you will, given the self-effacing exec has been one of the prime movers behind what is expected to be the blockbuster offering of Web 2.0: Facebook’s impending IPO.

And while the social networking site’s movietastic co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and its smooth-operator COO Sheryl Sandberg have gotten a lion’s share of the attention related to the initial public offering, the former Genentech exec has been the key man in organizing the IPO itself.

The kickoff to that will be its filing, which could come as early as tomorrow morning. Whatever the valuation and raise numbers are — that’s still not clear — it will be a badillion-zillion-tons.

That has meant a lot of noise and also shuttling among investors, bankers, board and all the many other dueling constituencies to organize what will be one of the most scrutinized IPOs in tech.

And, so far, the reviews of Ebersman, 42, have been good, with most praising his lack of ego, quiet confidence, professional demeanor and, most importantly, no drama as important attributes of what has been a smooth process, considering.

“This is a three-ring circus no matter what,” said one source. “But Ebersman has made it much less so by making sure it was as steady as it could be.”

That calm tone has also made him a favorite of Zuckerberg and Sandberg, as well as key Facebook board members such as Marc Andreessen, since he arrived at the company in 2009. At Facebook, he has been in charge of its finance, facilities and information technology teams.

But Ebersman has been a lot more than that, said multiple sources, taking the key role in the IPO, but also spearheading critical long-term planning initiatives and instituting strict resource allocation systems.

That sounds dull, but regimenting Facebook has been one of the hallmarks of its growth and stability compared to many other competitors.

“He could easily be a CFO for a Fortune 10 company … but he is much more than an accountant or a deal maker, which are two flavors CFO usually come in,” said one person who is an admirer of his work. “But [Ebersman] is much more than that — really leading the charge on significant fronts related to the core of Facebook’s operations.”

Before coming to Facebook, the Brown University graduate was CFO of biotech giant Genentech, where he also held a number of other more operational positions, including being in charge of product development there. Ebersman was also a research analyst on Wall Street.

He came to Facebook’s attention via Genentech’s Art Levinson, who recommended Ebersman to the company, despite his lack of Internet experience. He replaced Gideon Yu, who left Facebook in a controversial departure.

While initially concerned that he had little digital experience, Zuckerberg, Sandberg and others were immediately convinced that Ebersman was just what they were looking for — low-key, smart and able to grok the complexity and challenges of Facebook.

“You can hire someone who knows the space or someone who is like a great athlete and can master anything,” said one person. “David is the latter.”

Ebersman has been given the ball a lot with regards to the IPO, even though all roads of decision-making essentially lead to Zuckerberg, who has been intent on not rushing to market in favor of growing the business.

Low-key was one of Zuckerberg’s main tenets of the IPO as it became more inevitable.

Thus, one of the first things Ebersman did was nix the “pitch” process by banks.

Instead, sources said, he worked with bankers individually to design an IPO that would work best for Facebook, including keeping fees low.

“It was very hands on and careful, with Ebersman crafting close relationships rather than pitting banks against each other,” said one source. “But it was also all about Facebook maintaining complete control.”

Still, Ebersman also did not veer away from a relatively traditional process — no wacky Google auction here.

“Facebook is not taking chances with this IPO and wants to make it a blue-chip event,” said another source. “Neither David nor the company thinks this is a time to be that experimental.”

But one thing is clear as the IPO machine now moves into high gear: “This is a team — specifically Mark, Sheryl and David — that is completely aligned going into this and David is the implementer they trust to make it so.”

We’ll see how it goes in what will be a busy time going forward.

One thing for sure — Ebersman, who plays bass guitar in a band in his spare time, will have little of that in orchestrating the biggest arrangement of Facebook’s life.

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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