The third Mark Zuckerberg is ready for his closeup.
In a new, exclusive Forbes cover story, the Facebook CEO and mega-billionaire opened up about his company’s latest $100 billion bets, global philanthropic efforts — and, of course, his mixed martial arts training regimen that has rival Elon Musk unlikely to jump into an octagon soon, social media chest-puffing aside.
That square-off with Musk, and the latter’s chaotic rule at X, formerly known as Twitter, put Zuck back in the spotlight: we’re now seeing a third face of the Facebook founder, as his friend, Spotify founder Daniel Ek, describes public perception of the leader.
First, there was “The Social Network Mark,” Ek told Forbes’ Kerry Dolan, referencing the 2010 film that painted Zuckerberg as a ruthless, arrogant college dropout who would cut his friends’ throats on his way to social media dominance. Next, there was “Cambridge Analytica or ‘evil Mark,’” as Ek described it, referring to the company’s data harvesting scandal and the swamp of democracy-threatening problems Facebook hosted. (Ek was careful to note that these were not his own personal views.)
Now, there’s “more authentic Mark,” one who balances helicopter pilot training with mixed martial arts and overseeing huge bets in AI, the metaverse and philanthropy. “He’s learned a lot over these past few years and he has a new fire in the belly,” Ek told Forbes. “He’s realized he needs to act responsibly because he’s got this enormous platform. . . . But there’s still some of the old Mark, where he is betting on things even though everyone tells him ‘this is never gonna work.’ ”
“That old Mark” is also still a big part of Zuckerberg 3.0. The stock share setup for Facebook Zuckerberg set up for himself during his Social Network era gives him nearly unaccountable control of Meta today. And the company is still facing the same scrutiny for allowing propaganda and misinformation to thrive that it did during the Cambridge Analytica era.
Forbes has followed each face of Zuck over the years. Here’s how Zuck’s looked at each stop — and why his new look may not be so different as it appears.
“If I could, I wouldn’t even be on that list.” In 2010, a hoodie-wearing Zuckerberg met with former Forbes editor Quentin Hardy at the company’s snack station to discuss making the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans for a story called “In Zuckerberg We Trust.” He refused to answer questions about The Social Network, which hadn’t hit theaters yet.
Facebook was already grappling with early privacy concerns that, in hindsight, appeared almost quaint: a setting that made photos visible to all users by default, another that showed users what others were buying through the site. “We listen to all the anecdotal feedback, but we also look at the data of how people use the site,” he told a Silicon Valley conference this year. He’s seeing more, not less, sharing of personal information all the time.
And perhaps to his chagrin, he earned the nickname “toddler CEO,” one that he’s only now left behind.
“Long gone are the days of sweaty interviews, social discomfort and introversion as lampooned in Sony’s The Social Network,” former Forbes staffer Ryan Mac wrote in 2014. “Instead, Zuckerberg has developed into the CEO role with greater maturity and poise, proving that he can prioritize his company’s bottom line for the suits of Wall Street. He also got married and signed the Giving Pledge. And most importantly, he shed the image of adolescence that fueled doubts over his ability to run one of the world’s largest technology companies.”
“If he continued to be the kind of 20-year-old Zuckerberg today, I don’t think Facebook would have gotten as far,” YouTube cofounder Steve Chen told Forbes at the time.
But even as Zuckerberg began to be taken seriously, his aggressive leadership was summed up by his now most-famous motto: “Move fast and break things.” That ethos led to a disregard for safety at the expense of user growth as Facebook exploded, hitting more than 1 billion people using the platform in a single day for the first time in 2015. And with all that growth came scandal after scandal: the Russians meddling in the 2016 election by sowing division on Facebook, the Cambridge Analytica data scraping scandal, whistleblowers like Frances Haugen highlighting that the company knew about Facebook’s negative impact but prioritized growth at all costs anyway.
We got apologies, but not accountability. “Certain governments around the world will keep on trying to run different campaigns like this,” he told Forbes this year. “I think our teams have gotten a lot more sophisticated about dealing with this.”
Black Belt Mark
Today’s Zuckerberg has learned from these mistakes. He’s retired move-fast-and-break-things for a new, “martial arts view of the world,” as he put it. “When you go into a competition, you’re not fighting another person, you’re fighting yourself, right?” he told Forbes. “You’re just trying to be a better version of yourself.” Ultimately, he said, “The thing that determines your destiny isn’t a competitor. It’s how you execute.”
All that self-awareness sounds nice, but Zuckerberg has had the leeway to make a hell of a lot of mistakes along the way. Thanks to a decision he made back during his Social Network era, he owns 99% of Meta’s super-voting Class B shares, giving him 61% of the voting power — and near total control of the company. “There are plenty of companies in the world that have a lot of capital . . . that don’t have the leadership or board structure that enables them to take big bets on the future,” he said. “We’re a founder-controlled company.”
“There just aren’t that many places in the world where you can make the kind of long-term bets that we have,” Zuckerberg said.