Facebook has been on the hot seat as more information comes to light about the role it played in Russia’s meddling in the November 2016 election. The hot seat treatment brought the company’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg, to DC for an exclusive interview with Axios co-founder Mike Allen to discuss the situation and what Facebook was going to do about.
While in town Thursday, Ms. Sandberg visited with the Congressional Black Caucus. Apparently, one of the points of conversation was when Facebook was going to appoint an African-American director. CBC Chairman Cedric Richmond said after the meeting that Ms. Sandberg had committed to adding an African-American to Facebook's board soon. It doesn't make sense that no person of color sits on Facebook's board, granted this applies to much of corporate America. That said, the question now is who would be a good candidate to join Facebook’s board?
Some would immediately think of Michael Powell, president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. He has been the flag-bearer for the internet and television industry for the past several years. Before that, he was a member of the FCC, and chaired it for four years. He has a wealth of knowledge on navigating the regulatory landscape and would add a ton of value to Facebook in this vein.
The problem is that Mr. Powell serving on Facebook’s board while heading up the NCTA would be a conflict of interest, and I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t step down from his super powerful position just to be able to join Facebook’s board. Further, Mr. Powell doesn’t have the experience leading diversity initiatives at the scale with which Facebook needs experience. So, Mr. Powell’s not a fit.
There are two things this director needs experience with to move the needle forward at Facebook:
- The director needs to understand the media landscape and the regulatory system around it. Increasingly Facebook is being looked at as a media company rather than a social network. Because of that and the outcomes of the Russia-Facebook issue, Facebook could find itself facing increasing regulation to align the company with the rest of the media industry, so they will need someone who knows how to navigate that.
- Facebook needs someone with experience pushing diversity at a large organization and who can guide Facebook's management as it continues diversifying its workforce. Facebook’s annual reports on its diversity numbers show that the company has quite a ways to go and having someone in the boardroom who knows how to get that done is key.
Payne Brown would be a strong fit to join Facebook’s board. He’s currently a managing director at Highbridge Capital Partners, which is a minority partner in Diddy's RevoltTV. Mr. Brown was a vice president at Comcast where he led strategic initiatives, while overseeing program content, managing relationships with industry counterparts and governments, and standing up the company’s diversity council and leading the development of the company's diversity philosophy.
While there is government experience on the board in Erskine Bowles, having someone like Mr. Brown who has been successful on the lobbying side of the table in dealing with Congress would be helpful as Facebook’s dealings with Congress on Russia’s election meddling and whether it needs to be regulated like a media company increase.
A counter to Mr. Brown joining the board could be that he’s not a household name and could perplex investors who are trying to put a value to the impact he could have on Facebook’s business. Well, Payne has worked on Wall Street for several years now and I’m sure analysts would easily be able to ask around and get a better sense of the impact he’s had on the media industry. If they don’t get answers on Wall Street, they could just ask Diddy!
A bit of an aside to all this is that it’s fine that Facebook has made a commitment to adding an African-American individual to its board, and that Congressmen like G.K. Butterfield are focused on getting more African-Americans into executive roles in Silicon Valley. But, we have a lot of work to do to build an ecosystem within the black community that could support my daughter building a $100 billion business.
I believe there is enough wealth within the black community today to do this along the startup venture path - pre-seed, seed, series, A, B, C, D, initial public offering, and beyond. That’s what makes the work the folks at Black Girls Code, Precursor Ventures, Cross Culture Ventures, Backstage Capital, Black Wall Street and more exciting because they are more likely to find these folks and get them started along the path.
It would be nice to have a concerted effort from black policymakers, high net worth black people, and black players in the tech space to build an ecosystem around black technology entrepreneurs and provide them with the resources they need to build the future and billion dollar businesses along with it.