01/06/2014 05:25 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Man Worth $20 Billion Gets 'Crazy' When People Say He Cares About Money


Normally, it's shocking to hear someone of unfathomable wealth -- in this case, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg -- say with a straight face that he doesn't care about money. That is, shocking to hear anywhere except Silicon Valley.

"It drives me crazy when people write stuff and assert that we're doing something because the goal is to make a lot of money," Zuckerberg told The Wall Street Journal's Evelyn M. Rusli in a rare interview. The big reason Zuck cares about Facebook stock's price, the piece reveals, is because it's a great employee retention tactic. Workers with growing stock options tend to stick around.

On the heels of a year during which Facebook's stock price nearly doubled, Zuckerberg decided to do a victory lap in the press (and ease fretful investors who might second-guess trusting a 29-year-old with so much money) by describing how he learned to really really love advertising.

As described by The Journal, the moment came during a 2012 meeting when Facebook's executives were reviewing an update to the company's iPad app:

The CEO quietly studied them. "Why don't we just explore ads in news feed?" he said, according to people at the meeting. Mr. Zuckerberg indicated that he would be open to the possibility of more types of ads there, including ones not tied to "likes."

"Oh, my gosh, he's actually open to it," one executive present at the meeting remembers thinking. No one in the room asked Mr. Zuckerberg why. They were too worried he would change his mind.

Pooh-poohing money concerns is a well established tradition among the princes of Silicon Valley. "Our goal absolutely at Apple is not to make money," Apple's chief designer Jonathan Ive once said in an equally unbelievable quote. Unlike many of their wealthy colleagues on Wall Street, tech executives can make an honest claim of creating products that improve people's lives. However, some tech sector elite also fool themselves into thinking this means they don't care about money at all.

In the past, Zuckerberg has insisted that he never intended to run a corporation, much less one worth $138 billion. "Facebook was not originally created to be a company," he told potential investors two years ago. But a publicly traded company, which can dole out stock to top employees, simply happened to be the best way to incentivize workers.

And as the Journal tells it, employees' stock portfolios are what finally got Zuckerberg to think like the fabulously rich capitalist that he is. Before that iPad meeting, ads had always second (or third or fourth...) priority for Zuckerberg. But an internal survey revealed that engineers "worried that top management couldn't relate to their financial stress" after Facebook's stock dipped following the company's botched initial public offering. So retaining those frustrated workers meant finally learning to please Wall Street.



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