Business Today

Here's looking at you, India

Why Sheryl Sandberg continues her love affair with this country.
Sunny Sen | Print Edition: Aug 17, 2014
Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer, Facebook. Photo: Vivan Mehra/

When Sheryl Sandberg was in the sixth grade, she took part in an oratory contest, standing on a stool to be able to look over the lectern. The other participants were much older, but Sandberg managed to connect sufficiently with the audience to finish second. Later in life, she refined that natural ability through formal and informal training, and through ingenious methods like aerobics - that last one taught her, as she told Time magazine, to smile even when she did not mean it.

All her skills were at display on July 2, when she spoke to a predominantly female audience at the Oberoi in New Delhi. The voice modulation, at times dropping to a whimper, was pitch-perfect, the pauses were eloquent, and the hand gestures, made with bent fingers, struck a chord. She owned the stage like few can. Even off it, she charmed everyone who came up to her, squeezing her shoulder blades with a little shake of the head each time she radiated a smile. She connects.

Her arrival at Facebook, on March 24, 2008, would therefore seem predestined: the world's largest human network got the COO who connected easily with people. Her boss Mark Zuckerberg has gone on record to say there are few like her who combine IQ (intelligence quotient) and EQ (emotional quotient) in a single package.

But to Sandberg, it goes beyond the smiles, hand gestures, and squeezed shoulders. "Why do we let children die of unclean water all over the world? Because we do not know who they are. If we saw their names and saw their faces, we would not let that happen. It is really hard to shoot [anyone] if you know who they are," she says in an interview with Business Today.

Real identity was what drew her to Facebook from Google, where she was vice president of global online sales and operations. "[Facebook] wanted you to put your real name and your real picture.... I think Facebook is by far the world leader in real identity. Everything else is based on usage - it's different. Every connection I make on Facebook is me."

Peace on Facebook is an initiative that stems for this belief. "It shows real time connection with real people in parts of the world that have historically been at odds." India and Pakistan. Israel and Palestine. Turkey and Greece, Serbia and Kosovo. "You watch it and every second two real people have connected in these regions. I really believe that real identity and technology change human condition."

Her rendezvous with India - a country with a lot of people eager to connect with a lot of other people - would also seem predestined. She came here many years before Facebook was born, working on a World Bank leprosy project from 1991 to 1993. There was no Internet, and the Oberoi Hotel in New Delhi, where she stayed then, had one of the few treadmills the country had - rickety, but a treadmill all right.

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