Home » Edited Transcript of Sheryl Sandberg Addresses The Class of 2012 at HBS

Edited Transcript of Sheryl Sandberg Addresses The Class of 2012 at HBS

Sheryl Sandberg Speaks at HBS 2012

Here is the full transcript (Edited version) of the Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s address to the graduating Class of 2012 at Harvard Business School.

Listen to the MP3 Audio here: Sheryl Sandberg Addresses the Class of 2012


Introducer: Please join me in welcoming Sheryl Sandberg.

Sheryl Sandberg – COO, Facebook

Thank you. Thank you, Catherine. It’s an honor to be here today to address HBS’s distinguished faculty, proud parents, patient guests, and most importantly the class of 2012.

It’s an honor to be here today to address HBS’s distinguished faculty, proud parents, patient guests, and most importantly, the class of 2012.

Today was supposed to be a day of unbridled celebration and I know that’s no longer true. I join all of you in grieving for your classmate Nate. There are no words that make something like this better. Although laden with sadness, today still marks a distinct and impressive achievement for this class. So please everyone join me in giving our warmest congratulations to the Class of 2012.

When the wonderful Dean Nohria invited me to speak here today, I thought, come talk to a group of people way younger and cooler than I am? I can do that, I do that every day at Facebook. And I like being surrounded by young people except when they say to me, “What was it like being in college without the internet”, or worse, “Sheryl, can you come here, we need to see what old people are going to think of this feature”.

It’s a special privilege for me to be here this month. When I was a student here 17 years ago, I studied social marketing with Professor Kash Rangan, and one of the many examples Kash used to explain the concept of social marketing was the lack of organ donors in this country, which kills 18 people every single day. Earlier this month, Facebook launched a tool to support organ donations, something that stems directly from Kash’s work. Kash, wherever you are here, we are all grateful for your dedication.

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So, it wasn’t really that long ago when I was sitting where you are, but the world has changed an awful lot. My section, section B, tried to have HBS’s first online class. We had to use an AOL chat room and dial-up service. Your parents can explain to you later what dial-up service is. We had to pass out a list of our screen names, because it was unthinkable to put your real name on the internet. And it never worked. It kept crashing and kicking all of us up, because the world just wasn’t set up for 90 people to communicate at once on line.

But for a few brief moments, though, we glimpsed the future — a future where technology would power who we are and connect us to our real colleagues, our real family, our real friends. It used to be that in order to reach more people than you could talk to in a day, you had to be rich and famous and powerful, be a celebrity, a politician, and a CEO, but that’s not true today.

Now ordinary people have voice, not just those of us lucky enough to go to HBS, but anyone with access to Facebook, to Twitter, to a mobile phone. This is disrupting traditional power structures and leveling traditional hierarchy. Voice and power are shifting from institutions to individuals, from the historically powerful to the historically powerless, and all of this is happening so much faster than I could have ever imagined when I was sitting where you are today and Mark Zuckerberg was 11 years old.

As the world becomes more connected and less hierarchical, traditional career paths are shifting as well. In 2001, after working in the government, I moved out to Silicon Valley to try to find a job. My timing wasn’t really that good. The bubble had crashed, small companies were closing, big companies were laying people off. One woman CEO looked at me and said, “We would never even think about hiring someone like you”.

After awhile I had a few offers and I had to make a decision, so what did I do? I am MBA trained, I made a spreadsheet. And I listed my jobs in the columns and the things of my criteria in the rows, and compared the companies and the missions and the roles. One of the jobs on that sheet was to become Google’s first business unit general manager, which sounds good now, but at the time no one thought consumer internet companies could ever make money. I was not sure that there was actually a job there at all. Google had no business units, so what was there to generally manage. And the job was several levels lower than jobs I was being offered at other companies.

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So I sat down with Eric Schmidt, who had just become the CEO, and I showed him my spread sheet and I said, “This job meets none of my criteria”.

He put his hand on my sheet and he looked at me and said, “Don’t be an idiot”. Excellent career advice. And then he said, “Get on a rocket ship. When companies are growing quickly and you are having a lot of impact, careers take care of themselves. And when companies aren’t growing quickly or their missions don’t matter as much, that’s when stagnation and politics come in. If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on”.

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