Javier Oliván, the scholarship student who approached Zuckerberg in class and will now direct Meta

Meta (parent company of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp) is a company used to occupying covers. This week there has been a story that will not, despite the fact that it marks one of the biggest changes that the social media corporation could undertake. “It’s the end of an era,” Mark Zuckerberg has acknowledged.

The reason for such a momentous statement is that his “partner and friend” Sheryl Sandberg (Washington, 1969) has stepped aside as his number two in Meta. The reason this is so important is that Zuckerberg founded Facebook, but it was Sandberg who designed the business model for it. The advertising system that has made the corporation the eighth most valuable company in the world, which has ended up being one of the pillars of the digital industry as well as the focus of innumerable criticisms and debates on privacy and democracy, bears the signature of this American economist .

“When Sheryl joined me in 2008, I was only 23 years old and barely knew anything about running a business. We had created a great product, the Facebook website, but we still didn’t have a profitable business,” Zuckerberg wrote in your farewell letter. “Sheryl designed it,” the mogul continues, “she deserves credit for much of what Meta is today.”

The key role that Sandberg has had in the last 14 years in the construction of one of the companies that have shaped the digital society gives an idea of ​​the challenge that Javier Oliván (Huesca, 1977) now faces. The Spaniard, vice president of infrastructure, marketing, corporate development and growth of the multinational, will inherit the position of director of operations at Sandberg and will take charge of the advertising division, which marks the past, present and future of Meta. Also the one that has caused many of its scandals.

Zuckerberg has clarified that he is not a substitution and that Oliván will not have the weight in the company of his former number two. “His role will be different than Sheryl’s. It will be a more traditional COO role that Javi will focus on internally and operationally, building on his strong track record to make our execution more efficient and rigorous.” he explained.

The Spanish executive is no newcomer to Meta, although he has maintained a much lower profile than his predecessor, as evidenced by the fact that he does not even have his own page on the English version of Wikipedia. In fact, he came to Facebook even before Sandberg, in October 2007, when the network had just started to expand internationally. Since then he has been occupying positions of great responsibility in the corporation as a member of Zuckerberg’s hard core.

Of humble origins, Oliván studied Automatic Engineering and Industrial Electronics at the University of Navarra, where he graduated with a National End-of-Study Award from the Ministry of Education for his academic brilliance. He also stood out in his first steps in the private sector, designing algorithms for Germany’s Siemens and Japan’s NTT Data.

His career as a young and promising engineer earned him a scholarship from the Rafael del Pino Foundation to pursue an MBA at the prestigious Stanford University, in the heart of Silicon Valley. In one of those classes his life would change. “One day Mark visited the university and Javi came over to talk to him and propose projects. He was impressed by it…”, officials of the multinational explained in an informal conversation with this medium a few weeks before the appointment took place.

Oliván himself detailed the moment in a conversation with Bernardo Hernández, co-founder of Idealista, Glovo, Wallapop or Tuenti: “I met Mark in one of the classes and told him: I don’t understand why you are not doing this and this, we should internationalize the platform, translate it into all languages…”. Oliván knew what he was talking about because he had tried to launch a Spanish Facebook, without success. But out of that failure came opportunity. Zuckerberg’s response was direct: “Do you want to work at Facebook?”

Oliván joined Facebook to oversee its expansion outside the US. Then the network had 30 million members, today it far exceeds 2,000 million. Spanish has gone through multiple divisions of the multinational. “Javi was one of the first vice presidents, and when Facebook was filled with vice presidents, he was always in the highest rank, with many personnel who reported directly to him,” Meta sources recall.

“He’s an incredibly thoughtful, strategic and analytical leader,” Zuckerberg has said of him in the past. Oliván will combine his new responsibilities with the head of infrastructures that he held in recent times, being the head of very important investments of his company in Spain. Among them, 1,000 million euros that he has committed to his new data center for southern Europe, the construction of a submarine cable or the hiring of 2,000 workers.

Oliván acknowledges in a post after his appointment that until now he has “mainly been behind the scenes,” but that role has passed. Although without the power that Sandberg came to accumulate, the Spaniard will have to direct the operations of Meta in one of the most complicated moments of the multinational. Meta has lost 36% of its value since it started in 2022, the first time it has gone through such an economic downturn.

One of the reasons for this blunder has been the new privacy regulations and restrictions on the tracking of personal data for advertising profiling. This is the core of Meta’s business and the division that Oliván will direct from now on. The corporation cannot afford to run out of steam in this field, since with those profits it plans to finance the development of the metaverse, that evolution of the Internet based on virtual reality that Zuckerberg defends tooth and nail.


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