In a lawsuit, shareholders say Andreessen was advising Facebook's CEO when he was supposed to be representing investors.
Earlier this year, Facebook Inc.'s Mark Zuckerberg came to his shareholders with a big question: would they approve him maintaining voting control of the company, even if he sells most of his stock?
The monumental shift would benefit Zuckerberg because it would let him sell shares to fund philanthropy, but it had the potential to harm investors by diluting their power over decision making. And before putting the vote to shareholders, Facebook's board had the power to influence the outcome.
But the board's process was flawed, according to investor lawsuits filed against Facebook's directors in April and recently unsealed court filings in Delaware's Chancery Court. The company went through the motions of protecting minority shareholders, but one board member seemed more interested in protecting Zuckerberg himself, investors allege.
Zuckerberg has voting control among shareholders because his stock has most of the voting rights. He wanted to sell shares, but didn't want to lose his majority voting status. So he proposed setting up a new Facebook stock class. The new shares would automatically dilute the voting power of existing shareholders, because every share with voting power will split into three shares -- one that has power, and two that don't. In the new arrangement, the non-voting shares are less attractive as currency in acquisitions and may make it harder for the largest social-network provider to get tax benefits, among other issues.
The question was put to a vote by shareholders, but there was never any doubt about the result. Since Zuckerberg has majority voting control of the company, what he favors wins the day. Zuckerberg's proposal won the vote, and he got his way: He can sell his stock and maintain voting control. The shareholders approved the creation of a new stock class. The only entity that had any power to affect the outcome was Facebook’s board, which had already weighed the issue months earlier, in his favor.
In August 2015, with the chief executive's blessing, Facebook's board set up a special committee, choosing the three directors who were least beholden to Zuckerberg or financially affected by the decision -- Susan Desmond-Hellmann, Marc Andreessen and Erskine Bowles -- to represent shareholders while weighing the matter, according to a regulatory filing.
But Andreessen, a venture capitalist at Andreessen Horowitz and a long-time Facebook board member, is a close Zuckerberg ally. While on the committee, Andreessen slipped Zuckerberg information about their progress and concerns, helping Zuckerberg negotiate against them, according to court documents. The documents include the transcripts of private texts between the two men, revealing the inner workings of the board of directors at a pivotal time for Facebook.
When the time came for the committee to ask Zuckerberg questions on a conference call, Andreessen warned the Facebook founder about what he would be asked before directors posed the questions.
While the committee grilled Zuckerberg about why he wanted a special class of stock, Andreessen sent the CEO text messages to explain which of his arguments weren't working and why, according to messages quoted in court filings. During one March 4 call, Andreessen gave Zuckerberg live updates, both negative ("This line of argument is not helping. ☺") and positive ("NOW WE'RE COOKING WITH GAS"), according to texts provided by Facebook’s lawyers and cited in court filings....MORE