Facebook was only available in English in 2008. If the company waited to hire a translator, it would give competitors time to get used to it. The CEO tried to purchase the German clone, StudiVZ, in an all-stock transaction that would soon be worth billions of dollars.

It forced him to come up with a better idea. He suggested that Facebook use its users to do the translation work for free. The site was translated by German volunteers in just two weeks. It took just 24 hours for Facebook to be translated. Within six months, the site was open in 18 different languages.

The company's rise began when it translated Facebook. It was the start of the company. Over the course of a 15-year career at Meta, Olivan, 45, has become the company's most effective problem-solver, operating almost exclusively behind the scenes as one of Facebook's most trusted advisers. He will be the new chief operating officer.

relates to Mark Zuckerberg’s Sheryl Sandberg Replacement Has Long Been Meta’s Top Fixer
Olivan and Zuckerberg at Carlos Slim’s annual Telmex Foundation event for scholarship students in Mexico City in 2014.

The star power of Olivan may be different from that of Sandberg. He doesn't use social media to speak publicly or post to social media sites. He was involved in all of Facebook's acquisitions. If the public hasn't heard his name before, it could be from internal emails obtained by Congress in a report on Meta's alleged monopoly status, or from leaked documents sharing the company's "growth at all costs" mentality.

It was Olivan who helped expand the service to unprecedented size and power, even though he didn't invent it. He has become the company's unofficial fix-it man, taking over when the CEO wants something done. The Messenger app has more than one billion users. He was a key advocate for multiple Facebook deals, such as its $22 billion acquisition ofWhatsApp, and the lesser-known Onavo tool, which helped Meta gather competitive intel on how often users were opening other social apps on their phones. After the 2016 election exposed a number of Facebook's flaws around election ads and misinformation, Zuckerberg moved teams working on those problems to Olivan.

It was an easy decision, recalls Dan Rose, the company's long time partnerships lead. He says that it had to do with the fact that he was the most competent product executive.

The choice of Olivan to be COO suggests that something bigger is needed. The company feels vulnerable for the first time in a long time. Facebook is changing many products to combat rising competition from TikTok. The company cut expenses after it posted its first revenue decline. Privacy changes on the iPhone have made it harder for Meta to collect the kind of precise targeting data that has driven its advertising business for years. Meta said it would see a $10 billion reduction in profit because of the changes.

The company is being pivoted toward a vision of the internet known as the metaverse, a virtual world where people will communicate as digital characters. There is a business model that doesn't exist for the product. Facebook's valuation has been cut in half over the past six months, and concerns have arisen about the core social network's long-term viability.

It is a collection of problems that must be taken care of by Olivan. He has teams that include ads, partnerships, marketing, growth, corporate development, infrastructure, integrity, and analytic. Marne Levine, the chief business officer who used to work for Sandberg, now works for Olivan.

One of the reasons for the intrigue is that he is replacing someone. The COO position at Meta has become one of the most prominent positions in the business. She was a public figure for a long time, speaking out about policy and business issues, meeting with politicians, and promoting a global movement for female advancement at work. As trust in her statements eroded, she retreated from public view but is still a household name.

Even within the company, Olivan is not known. He likes it that way and doesn't care about the media or press. He wouldn't comment on the story. Four of the 14 pictures on his public profile include his face. His social media accounts are not public. Alex Shultz, Meta's chief marketing officer, doesn't want people to mistake his humility and lack of ego for lack of effectiveness or shyness. He is a super-low-ego, humble guy and I think that should be rewarded in business more than it is.

It will be slightly different for Olivan. Nick Clegg, the former deputy prime minister of the UK who got a promotion of his own in February, is now in charge of the policy teams that used to roll up to Sandberg. The legal team that was under the supervision of Sandberg is now reporting to the CEO.

In other ways, Olivan will have more responsibility than the other way around. He will be in charge of both advertising sales and advertising product, which means that the people building Meta's ad products will be interacting more with marketers. It is a noticeable change for Meta, as for most of the past decade, the product was handled by Facebook. In his post, he acknowledged the change. He wrote that it made sense for the product and business groups to be more closely integrated. The execution will be made more efficient and rigorous by Olivan.

While growing up in a small city near the Pyrenees in northern Spain, he spoke five languages, including Japanese and German, and served as the family translator on trips around Europe. After studying electrical and industrial engineering in Spain, he got a job at the tech company, and then went on to get an masters degree in business administration at the school. He had a better idea of how people outside the US were using Facebook when he got to it. In the past, Olivan has traveled to Panama, South Korea, and Spain to open Facebook's international offices.

The company had a global perspective. The Internet.org initiative, which brought free internet services, including Facebook, to countries where internet access is limited and expensive, was overseen by the man who is now Meta. He helped push the release of Facebook lite, a version of the social network that used less wireless data, so people in emerging markets could access it. It was at one point that lite had more than 200 million users. Those efforts were part of Olivan's growth strategy to expand Facebook's reach into as many countries as possible, but they were also inspired by his own experiences abroad and his network of friends and family outside the US. Naomi Gleit, who runs product management for the company, says that Javi reminded them that not everyone was using an Apple device. He tried to bring in international insight.

He presented his case for the deal on two different fronts. He was the head of Facebook's analytic team and presented data to the CEO. According to a congressional report that examined the deal, he told the CEO that he wanted to expose Facebook to a broader audience. The internal culture of Meta leans heavily on data for most decisions.

He used it himself to communicate with his friends and family in Europe. His colleagues say that he was more plugged in to the messaging service than most of his colleagues.

The big moves have legacies. The idea that all internet services should be treated equally by giving Facebook and its partners a leg up in emerging markets wassailed by critics. In India, the program was stopped. Despite its price tag, the messaging service hasn't made much revenue for the social networking site.

The congressional argument that Facebook has developed monopoly power through its strategy to copy, acquire, or crush competitors is based on the deals for Onavo. As the company grew, it developed many blind spots that became major public scandals about misinformation, data privacy, and more.

At Meta, the big question is whether the company can deliver another decade of growth.