SAN FRANCISCO — Mark Zuckerberg did his best impression of former secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week.
Fresh from speaking before the United Nations about the importance of connecting everyone on the Internet on Saturday, he jetted to Silicon Valley to host India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Facebook on Sunday. Before that, he squeezed in a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in the Pacific Northwest.
International tech diplomacy? Shameless marketing? Genuine interest in global affairs? Whatever you want to call it, it’s Zuck’s world and we just live in it.
During the scripted Q&A with Modi, one tech journalist opined on Twitter, “Is Mark Zuckerberg the closest thing the tech industry has ever had to a head of state?”
It seemed improbable a few years ago, but Zuckerberg — he of the black hoodie and awkward social interaction then — has blossomed into a poised, polished captain of industry. And he now looks the part, resplendent in tailored suit and tie for his foreign dignitary moments.
With apologies to Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and others, Zuck, 31, has quickly, and deftly, become the tech CEO in Silicon Valley.
A day after Pope Francis turned New York on its collective ear, Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and others on Saturday assembled during the 70th annual U.N. General Assembly session, where Zuckerberg pushed for Internet access for everyone on the planet. Later, he delivered the keynote address at the United Nations Private Sector Forum, where U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon and German Chancellor Angela Merkel also spoke.
The U.N. visit capped a week in which Zuckerberg, whose company’s service reaches 1.44 billion members worldwide, met with global leaders while leading a global brand. While bouncing about the country, Zuckerberg espoused Facebook’s various efforts, including an effort to connect Indians to the Internet through Internet.org.
The growing power of Zuck was perhaps best displayed when he conversed with Xi in Mandarin while other tech leaders settled for a group shot with the Chinese president. Joked the Guardian, “The Chinese president met the most powerful man in America, Mark Zuckerberg.”
The numbers don’t lie. Facebook raked in $12.5 billion in revenue last year, up 58% from 2013. Its current market valuation of $264 billion puts it in the pantheon of corporate America, side by side with Apple, Google and Microsoft.
“Facebook is well-positioned, executing well, and meeting or beating expectations,” says Brian Blau, research director at Gartner.
How influential? Good enough to grace the cover of Vanity Fair, which featured him in a piece on the “new establishment.” Zuckerberg told the magazine he’s ready to change the world again with Oculus, the virtual reality start-up Facebook gobbled up for $2 billion last year.
The new, improved Zuckerberg — with a major assist from Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, an operations wizard — is a winning combination. They have successfully led Facebook into the mobile market, rejuvenated its advertising model with mobile and measurement tools, and overseen a string of acquisitions (WhatsApp, Instagram) that have made Facebook a model of efficiency and creativity.
By 2017, Facebook’s slice of worldwide ad revenue will be $23.9 billion, up from $15.5 billion this year, according to eMarketer.
While other tech CEOs commanded attention and press coverage a few years ago (see Mayer, Marissa), Zuckerberg has consistently built a powerhouse product that he isn’t afraid to tinker with (Twitter, are you paying attention?).
The power of Zuck is a thing to behold, and it isn’t a stretch to see which tech legend has had a deep influence on the Facebook co-founder.
Zuckerberg says he sought the advice of Steve Jobs when deciding whether to sell Facebook in the early days. And it was Jobs who told Zuckerberg to seek answers in India.
If the past week was any indication, Zuck found plenty of answers.
Follow USA TODAY San Francisco Bureau Chief Jon Swartz on Twitter: @jswartz.
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