Kara Swisher

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Owen Van Natta to Leave Facebook


One of the earliest executives at Facebook, Owen Van Natta (pictured here), will be transitioning out of the social-networking company in the next few weeks.

Van Natta played a key role in important negotiations related to Facebook’s early lucrative ad deal with Microsoft (MSFT) and the software giant’s recent $240 million investment in Facebook.

But Van Natta, whose job description was changed from COO to Chief Revenue Officer and VP Operations last year, after titles were shuffled at the start-up last summer, said in an interview today that he felt he had done what he could at Facebook and has long wanted to be CEO of a consumer Web company.


At Facebook, of course, that seat is currently occupied by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (pictured here), who is unlikely to move aside for a long time to come. He is only 23 years old now.

“I have had a lot of things that I have wanted to pursue for a long time,” said Van Natta in an interview. “And Facebook has a really great management team in place now to take it to a new level.”

Zuckerberg said that Van Natta had been critical to the huge growth Facebook has seen over the last few years and said his goal as CEO is to continue the company on a fast-moving trajectory.

“We are now at a point where we have made some key hires and have strong businesses,” said Zuckerberg. “What we are trying to be is a social utility, and we think we can connect the whole world.”

That tall order will now happen without Van Natta, who still retains a sizable chunk of Facebook stock, which was recently valued (due to the Microsoft deal he negotiated, in fact–irony!) at $15 billion.

Before Facebook, he was the vice president of worldwide business and corporate development at Amazon (AMZN) and the founder and vice president of its A9.com search effort.

When Van Natta arrived at Facebook in September of 2005, he was responsible for a wide swath of the business, including operational and financial strategy for the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company, which was very small at the time.

He has said to me many times that he had been hesitant to come to Facebook then, as he had been looking for a CEO job at the time.

Since then, the company has indeed bulked up management. 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; and CTO Adam D’Angelo.

In addition, Zuckerberg said he would add ad sales head Mike Murphy, who will take on new international responsibilities too, and business development head Dan Rose to the core management team.

Here is an interview I did with Van Natta in the fall about the controversial Beacon ad program Facebook launched and had to later change, because of privacy concerns.

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald