Peter Thiel, the tech investor and conservative provocateur who has advised Mark Zuckerberg for nearly two decades at Facebook parent Meta Platforms, will step down from the company’s board after Meta’s annual shareholder meeting in May.
Mr Thiel, 54, who became a director in 2005 after an early investment in Facebook, plans to increase his political support of former President Donald Trump’s agenda during the 2022 election and doesn’t want his political activities to be a distraction for Facebook, according to a person close to Mr Thiel.
His focus will be on backing Blake Masters, JD Vance and others who advance the Trump agenda, the person added, referring to Republican candidates for US Senate.
“Peter is truly an original thinker who you can bring your hardest problems and get unique suggestions,” Mr Zuckerberg said. “He has served on our board for almost two decades, and we’ve always known that at some point he would devote his time to other interests.”
Mr Thiel helped Mr Trump to win the presidential election in 2016 by donating money and speaking on his behalf at the Republican National Convention. When Mr Trump became president, Mr Thiel worked on his transition team while nominating colleagues to fill government positions, including former Thiel Capital chief of staff Michael Kratsios, who served as the chief technology officer of the White House until last year. Mr Thiel has continued to support Mr Trump while meeting with members of the Republican Party and members of the far-right in recent years.
Mr Thiel’s departure will mark the end of one of the most productive - and harshly criticised - partnerships between a chief executive and an investor in all of business. Mr Thiel has been a close adviser to Mr Zuckerberg ever since the duo met through Napster co-founder Sean Parker, when Facebook was still just a social network for college campuses. Mr Thiel was instrumental in shaping Mr Zuckerberg’s ethos during the early days of Facebook and its relentless pursuit of growth.
That relationship continued even as Mr Thiel became more and more controversial in the technology industry, and became a frequent target for Facebook critics and unhappy employees.
Mr Thiel, who is also a co-founder and chairman of Palantir Technologies, was known to advise Mr Zuckerberg on political issues. He was among those reportedly encouraging the chief executive not to fact-check political advertisements in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election, a move that many believe benefited Mr Trump. He also joined a dinner with Mr Zuckerberg and Mr Trump at the White House in 2019.
Many Facebook employees were upset with Mr Thiel’s role in backing Mr Trump in 2016 given the former president’s stance on immigration, and allegations of sexism and racism against then-candidate Mr Trump. But Mr Zuckerberg defended Mr Thiel and his role on Facebook’s board in an internal post to employees in October 2016. “We can’t create a culture that says it cares about diversity and then excludes almost half the country because they back a political candidate,” he wrote at the time.
Mr Thiel was one of the first venture capitalists to see the potential in Mr Zuckerberg’s vision. He became the first outside investor in Facebook when he lent the then-Harvard undergraduate student $500,000 in 2004.
The bet validated Mr Thiel’s instincts and acclaim as an investor but it had the potential to be far more lucrative. He sold most of his stake in 2012 through a prearranged stock-trading plan at an average price of less than $20 a share.
Those share sales generated more than $1.1 billion in proceeds for the billionaire, before taxes. Had he maintained his stake at its pre-IPO level however, his holding in Meta would now be worth ten times as much.
Mr Masters, a former student of Mr Thiel’s who co-wrote Zero to One with him, is running for Senate as a Republican from Arizona. Mr Masters still oversees Mr Thiel’s personal investment vehicle, Thiel Capital.
Mr Vance, who previously invested on behalf of Mr Thiel, is running for the Senate as a Republican from Ohio who is a “conservative outsider.” Mr Vance is best known for his 2016 memoir Hillbilly Elegy and is campaigning on promises to abolish the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and push back against gun laws.