Here's why that's a great move:
- Desmond-Hellmann is an academic. That brings someone with a new background to the board. (Board member Erskine Bowles formerly served as president of the University of North Carolina, but he's better known for his career in politics.)
- She's also a scientist. She was formerly president of Genentech, and she's board-certified in internal medicine and oncology, the study and treatment of cancer. Most of Facebook board members have backgrounds in software or Internet startups.
- She's not an insider's insider. Desmond-Hellmann does have professional and social ties to Silicon Valley's elite. She hosted a press conference at UCSF announcing the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, an award for scientific research backed by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. And she previously worked for Art Levinson, the former Genentech CEO who's now chairman of Apple's board. So she's a known quantity to the other high-powered members of Facebook's board—which is important—but she can represent Facebook shareholders from an independent view.
- She's on the board of an important advertiser. Desmond-Hellmann is also on the board of Procter & Gamble, an important consumer packaged-goods maker. That can't hurt, as that's a category Facebook is specifically targeting in its sales efforts.
So: Well done, Facebook!
As a startup, Facebook had a very small board tightly controlled by Zuckerberg. As a public company, it's smartly expanded that board.
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