Sheryl Sandberg is one of the most visible figures in Silicon Valley. Javier “Javi” Olivan, who’s succeeding Sandberg as operating chief at Facebook owner Meta, is a virtual unknown off campus.
Sandberg, the author of the best-selling 2013 book “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead,” has over 900,000 Instagram followers. Olivan’s Instagram, with 17 followers, is private. Until Wednesday, Olivan hadn’t published a public post to his Facebook profile since 2018.
“I want to thank Sheryl for everything she’s done for Meta and for the billions of people around the world who use our products,” Olivan wrote on Facebook after the announcement, coinciding with posts from Sandberg and Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
On Wednesday, Sandberg said she’s ending her 14-year-run at the company so she can focus on philanthropy. Zuckerberg said that while Olivan will assume the COO title, he won’t replace Sandberg in the organizational structure “since she’s a superstar who defined the COO role in her own unique way.”
Olivan’s quiet public persona doesn’t reflect his influence at the company. He’s among a handful of executives reporting to Zuckerberg, climbing near the top of the latter in his almost 15-year stint at the social-media company. He joined the C-suite five months ago, assuming the title of chief growth officer, and is also vice president of cross-Meta products and infrastructure.
If Sandberg led the charge in building Facebook’s advertising business, which still represents 97% of Meta’s total revenue, Olivan deserves credit for its global expansion. His first job at the company, from 2007 to 2011, was head of international growth.
Over 91% of monthly users now come from outside the U.S. and Canada, according to Meta’s first quarter results.
Born in the small Spanish municipality of Sabi??nigo in 1977, Olivan worked in Europe and Asia before making his way to Silicon Valley. After receiving a master’s degree in electrical and industrial engineering from Spain’s University of Navarra, he worked as a research and development engineer at Siemens in Munich and then at NTT Data in Tokyo. In 2007, he graduated from Stanford University’s business school and joined Facebook.
When he arrived at Facebook in 2007, fewer than 50 million people were using the app, with “a very small portion coming from users outside the U.S.” That’s according to the prospectus for Vy Global Growth, a black-check company that counts Olivan as a board member.
In addition to Vy Global, Olivan spent six years on the board of Latin American e-commerce company MercadoLibre, and he invested in geospatial imaging company Satellogic ahead of the SPAC deal it completed in January.
But his career has been centered at Facebook. In 2008, Olivan accompanied Zuckerberg for an appearance at the University of Navarra. He later worked on Internet.org, an effort Facebook and other companies launched in 2013 to connect people to internet services in less developed countries.
‘Extroverted and social’
By 2015, the Internet.org effort had brought free internet services to over 500 million people and connected 7 million who were not previously online. In an email interview with Americas Quarterly, Olivan, then vice president of growth at Facebook, said that while the company had already become a fixture across Latin America, it still had ample room to grow in the region.
“Extroverted and social by nature, Latin Americans have embraced our site to the point that in many places, Facebook is synonymous with the internet,” Olivan wrote.
Spanish was Facebook’s first non-English language, and it was the first project Olivan worked on, he said in an interview earlier this year.
Olivan has continued serving the company overseas. As recently as March, he represented Meta on a state visit with Pedro S?nchez, the prime minster of Spain.
Olivan also pushed for Facebook to buy mobile messaging app WhatsApp. Before the $19 billion acquisition in 2014, Olivan told Facebook management that WhatsApp was more actively used than Facebook, noting that “literally everyone” in Spain used it, according to a 2020 report from Democratic staffers on a U.S. House subcommittee on antitrust. Zuckerberg said that he agreed with Olivan’s analysis that WhatsApp could expose new users to Facebook.
Even with the promotion, Olivan may remain relatively under the radar. Sandberg, in her role as No. 2, routinely updated investors on quarterly earnings calls. A Meta spokesperson declined to comment on whether Olivan would follow suit.
Zuckerberg wrote in his Facebook post that Olivan is taking on integrated ads and business products while continuing to run infrastructure, integrity, analytics, marketing, corporate development and growth.
“With some exceptions, I don’t anticipate my role will have the same public-facing aspect, given that we have other leaders at Meta who are already responsible for that work,” Olivan wrote in his Facebook post.