Stephen Foley: Zuckerberg needs to show his face to investors

It is clear that Facebook is being run as a one-man band by its founder

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The Independent Online

US Outlook Mark Zuckerberg has to stop teasing Wall Street and do the right thing.

The more we learn about Facebook's acquisition of the photo-sharing app Instagram two weeks ago, the more clear it becomes that the social networking giant is being run as a one-man band by its founder. Facebook's board was told about the $1bn deal talks just hours before they were asked to rubber-stamp the final offer, and rubber-stamping is all it was. Even Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer who is supposed to act as a kind of "adult supervision" because of her experience at Google and in government, was told about the whirlwind talks only as they started, and played no part in the negotiations. The whole thing was a Zuckerberg Production, played out at his five-bedroom home in Silicon Valley over just three days, an extraordinarily compressed timeframe that may come to look reckless.

We already knew that buying into Facebook's initial public offering next month involves handing over most of the normal shareholder rights to Mr Zuckerberg, who controls 57 per cent of the voting shares despite owning less than one-third of the company. Investors looked like they will just lump this, because of the extraordinary growth potential of Facebook.

What investors must do, though, is judge the downside risks, too – and I'm afraid that means looking at the whites of Mr Zuckerberg's eyes. When a few potential investors turned up for a pre-roadshow presentation at Facebook, the founder and chief executive did not pop in, despite being in the building. He left it to Ms Sandberg and the chief financial officer to talk them through the company's operations and accounts and strategy, and apparently he is tempted also to not attend the roadshow, when Facebook shares will be pitched to investors across the US and internationally.

It was reported last week that Mr Zuckerberg was being "bombarded" with requests to attend the roadshow, which is expected to kick off around the turn of this month. He shouldn't even have to be asked.

I wrote in this space last week about the arrogance, and frankly the recklessness, of Silicon Valley founders who float their companies yet keep control through special voting powers, ripping up the normal checks and balances on their power. The counter-argument is that there is nothing wrong with asking investors to back the judgement of a visionary leader, as Facebook's investors are being asked to do. But since that is what they are being asked to do, then that leader must be more accessible to investors, not less. You'll be on the roadshow, Mr Zuckerberg, right?

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