What Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg knows about a cup of tea
By Debby Edelstein
I’ve never forgotten what a friend and well-known CEO once revealed to me as his most successful strategy for winning new business: simply booking a cup of tea and a chat with a prospect rather than an expensive pitch. So I was intrigued to read in The New Yorker recently that Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s rise to the top of Silicon Valley was paved with a similar strategy.
When Lawrence Summers became chief economist at the World Bank in 1991, he recruited Sheryl (who had been his economics student at Harvard) as his research assistant. He asked her to research whether a bailout in 1917 could have saved Russia from 70 years of Communism. The research was necessary to assist with the World Bank’s decision on whether or not to bail Russia out many years later. “What most students would have done,” he says “is gone off to the library, skimmed some books on Russian history and said they weren’t sure it was possible. What Sheryl did was call Richard Pipes, “who was a leading historian of the Russian Revolution and a professor of Harvard. She engaged him for one hour and took detailed notes.”
The next day, she reported back to Summers. And the rest is now Facebook history. In an age where it’s so easy to avoid conversation, it’s clear that Sheryl’s career has been influenced by her respect for the power of a cup of tea.