Australia Markets open in 5 hrs 53 mins

What Facebook’s ex-MD learned from being the oldest in the room

Facebook's ex-MD on being the oldest in the room. Source: LinkedIn/Getty

Stephen Scheeler will speak about innovation at Yahoo Finance’s All Markets Summit on the 26th September 2019 in the Shangri-La, Sydney. Check out the full line-up of speakers and agenda for this groundbreaking event here.

When Stephen Scheeler joined Facebook Australia as its managing director, he was the company’s oldest employee.

In fact, Mark Zuckerberg himself was a whole 20 years his junior.

“Plenty of people work with younger people, but what happened to me was suddenly I was surrounded by millennials, and that's all Facebook was - millennials and Gen Zs,” Scheeler told Yahoo Finance.

“There were no other people my age.”

And Scheeler said it wasn’t easy to step into an environment like that.

“Mark was very bias, I think, against people who are older,” Scheeler said.

But he acknowledged that Zuckerberg wasn't the first one to express that view. “That's been happening for generations.”

But while being surrounded by millennials sounds like any 47-year-old’s biggest nightmare, Scheeler chose to take it in his stride.

At Facebook, nobody cared what experience you had

“It's really good to just admit to people that you don't know what you're doing and that you need to learn from them,” Scheeler said.

“So I kind of realised that you need to earn your right to have your experience mean something, because at Facebook, nobody cared what experience you had.”

Scheeler said Facebook employees measured themselves on what they could do today, which he deemed “really clarifying”.

“Ultimately, if you're going to build the best organisation of any kind in the world, you want that to be the measure,” he said.

“‘What are you doing today?’ Not what did you do yesterday, or 10 years ago, or 20 years ago.”

So rather than play on his previous experience to succeed in the role, Scheeler had to turn his peers into teachers by asking them to teach him about parts of Facebook and technology that he wasn’t as advanced in, he explained.

“That was probably the best thing I did during my time at Facebook.”

Businesses can benefit from creating a learning environment

While Scheeler said there’s no one formulal for success, businesses need to look for employees with two qualities: the ability to fail and the ability to learn.

“Unfortunately, we built a lot of our cultures around zero tolerance of failure and mistakes and a lot of our leaders lead this way,” Scheeler said.

“People don't want to admit that they don't know something or that they didn't do something well or they failed at something. It’s kind of almost the nature of a business person to want to seem confident and competent.”

“But I think there's something about this. A bit of incompetence actually is good because it makes you learn, and by learning you move forward faster.”

Stephen Scheeler will speak about innovation at Yahoo Finance’s All Markets Summit on the 26th September 2019 in the Shangri-La, Sydney. Check out the full line-up of speakers and agenda for this groundbreaking event here.