When Jeff Rothschild joined Facebook in 2005, he was old enough to be Mark Zuckerberg’s father. At 50, the experienced entrepreneur who had already founded two successful companies seemed out of place, especially in khakis and a tucked-in shirt that did little to betray his age.
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Nine years later, Rothschild is likely pleased with himself for agreeing to report to a then 21-year-old CEO whose workplace attire consisted of a hoodie and sandals. By FORBES’ estimations he is the latest Facebook billionaire and is worth at least $1.2 billion.
FORBES estimates that Facebook’s Vice President of Infrastructure Software holds more than 18 million shares of the Menlo Park, Calif.-based social networking firm. A financial form filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission when Facebook went public in May 2012, disclosed that Rothschild held more than 24 million shares when the company made its Nasdaq debut.
“Since the earliest days, Jeff has been a linchpin for Facebook’s technical success,” said Facebook Chief Technology Officer Michael Schroepfer. “So much of the company’s journey from being a humble start-up to becoming a truly global platform can be mapped back to his work and expertise.”
Rothschild declined to comment for this piece.
Known as “J-Ro” around Facebook’s campus according to sources close to the company, Rothschild was by far the oldest person to work there when he started. An experienced entrepreneur, he founded Veritas Software in 1988 (later merged with Symantec in 2005) and gaming company Mpath Interactive in 1995 (IPO in April 1999). Zuckerberg was 4 when Rothschild started Veritas.
As an advisor at Accel, Rothschild was introduced to the company by partners Kevin Efrusy and Jim Breyer in May 2005. The pair had just led a $12.2 million investment into “Thefacebook” after months of persistence and brought on the experienced elder statesman to solve its challenges with growth. Rothschild, who has no relation to the wealthy banking family of the same name, was known at the time for his deep knowledge of backend systems and technology that helped power websites. He was asked by Zuckerberg, according to those close to Facebook, to set up the proper engineering teams that could handle the tasks that were then being micromanaged by the CEO and cofounder Dustin Moskovitz.
“He’s kind of this über architect and he has this ability to understand how everything comes together,” said Accel partner Ping Li. “If building a product is like building a car, you have to understand all the different layers: computing, storage networking, data center infrastructure… It’s not just the carburetor but also how the air conditioning hooks up to this and that.”
Though Zuckerberg called him “a lousy recruiter,” Rothschild became the company’s fix-all mechanic, shunning retirement and agreeing to take a two-year position to help Facebook scale its backend and keep up with user growth that stretched and strained the company’s resources. He detailed some of the company’s early issues to the New York Times in 2012, describing a situation in 2006 when employees bought all the fans at local drugstores to prevent servers in a 40-by-60-foot rental space from overheating.
Two years and an additional seven later, Rothschild still holds a part-time role at Facebook, though he’s ceded most of the day-to-day responsibilities to current Vice President of Infrastructure Engineering Jay Parikh. He maintains a role at Accel as a venture consultant, a relationship that’s into its 15th year.
That time has paid off handsomely as Facebook’s skyrocketing shares have made him a billionaire. The company’s stock is up more than 150% year-over-year as of market’s close on Friday, making Rothschild and Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, new entrants into the 10-figure fortune club. Facebook’s $19 billion purchase of mobile messaging company WhatsApp also made founders Jan Koum and Brian Acton into billionaires.
But while Sandberg and Koum, who will join Facebook’s board once the deal is complete, will play more active roles at the social networking firm, Rothschild is likely content to stay in the background.
“He’s always the guy behind the scenes,” said Li. “He’s still a geek and still a nerd!”
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