Facebook’s Carolyn Everson Responds to Tough Questions at Feliciano Center Fireside Chat

What if you were fired from a company you helped start? Would that sabotage your career? Montclair resident Carolyn Everson, who is vice president of global marketing solutions at Facebook, said that it almost sabotaged hers.

She told the audience at the April 9 Montclair Entrepreneurs Meetup, sponsored by Montclair State University’s Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship, that she had struggled for years with an “inner voice” that almost destroyed her ability to succeed.

Everson was a cofounder of Pets.com, along with the person who had the domain name.  She had a vision for the company, but was at odds with the person brought on to be the CEO. “We met, and disagreed about the business,” she told the group. When she got home from that meeting, she got a fax that said her services were no longer needed. “I cried for days on end,” she recalled.

The incident haunted her, even when she was succeeding at Facebook. And Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg noticed. Sandberg told Everson that she needed to have confidence and know she was succeeding before that inner voice brought her down.

After eight years at Facebook, the “inner voice” is still there, Everson said, but it is tamped down and she knows how to control it.

When the moderator of the event, Elisa Charters, cofounder and president of Latina Surge (New York) and a friend of Everson’s, asked her about her strong stand on gun safety, Everson responded that Facebook is taking action and rethinking its responsibility to its users and society.

“There are days and weeks that are harder than others,” she said, referring to the massacre of Muslim worshipers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.  “Our Facebook response was challenging. It was really sad that Facebook Live was being used in the wrong way,” as part of the attack. She added that it was a horrific and devastating use of technology.

Everson noted that her she doesn’t feel an unbridled optimism regarding tech, but that the good outweighs the bad. “I can stand on any stage and say I’m proud” to be part of Facebook, she said.

Asked about fake news, Everson noted that Facebook has learned that fake news is not necessarily politically motivated. It can be economically motivated. So the way to go about it is to remove the economic incentive. “You have to go after the organizations that are pumping out the stories.” She said that Facebook has employed a third-party fact-checking organization that, the company believes, will reduce fake news by 80 percent. But it can’t get it all, as there are areas of speech that are protected by the Constitution.

About her own career, Everson said that she succeeds by assembling her own “board of directors,” people she trusts that help her out when she has to make tough decisions. “The board has to be as objective as possible,” she said. “I am terrible at making my own decisions. I like to get feedback.” This helps take the emotional strain out of decision-making, she said.

She also said that she is a user of Facebook. “I thrive on friendships, but everyone only has the capacity to stay in touch with 150 people. Facebook lets me keep up with others,” and she values that.

Asked about Facebook’s corporate culture, she referred to the saying, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” quoting Peter Drucker. Facebook tries to foster an environment in which employees can pursue a career; a fulfilling home life; and a social component, including community service. It wants to create an environment where “you can be your whole self.”

Everson was personally recruited by Sandberg and Mark Zuckerberg. About Zuckerberg, she said, “I wish people knew the Mark I know. He cares deeply about leaving the world a better place and is intellectually curious.”

So how does Everson balance her challenging work life, which has her constantly traveling all over the world, with family and a commitment to her local community? She said that she falls back on a family motto, “Life is short, create memories.”

Everson gave some career advice to the students in the room, noting that artificial intelligence and other technologies are bringing dramatic changes to the workplace. She told them to be a “learning organization that never graduates.” In response to a question, she said that it’s easier to get internships at Facebook if you are a software engineer. She advised others to look for smaller companies to work for, to network and stay persistent. Also, she said, “find an advocate to help you navigate towards your dream career.”

[ Find out more about Frank Cuhna III here.]

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