As a years-long friend of Mark Zuckerberg, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek might be more attuned than most to changes in the Meta founder’s behavior.
But Ek isn’t the only one to notice a change in Zuckerberg in recent years, and he told Forbes he thinks his friend is now reaping the benefits of morphing into the third version of his public persona.
First there was “The Social Network Mark,” after which came the “Cambridge Analytica Mark,” or “evil Mark.” Now Ek says he has observed Mark 3.0, a ruthless boss who’s winning back investors’ hearts while honing an unexpectedly cool life away from work as a surfer and MMA fighter.
Ek told Forbes, which spoke to the Spotify CEO as part of a profile on the Meta boss, that he was talking about the public perception of Zuckerberg, rather than his own opinion of his friend.
The 3 Marks
“The Social Network Mark” Ek was referring to comes from Zuckerberg’s unflattering portrayal in the Oscar-winning movie helmed by David Fincher.
Zuckerberg was portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg as brilliant but brattish and calculated. Focus was put on his ruthless behavior towards co-founder and former friend Eduardo Saverin, as well as his partnership with Napster founder and early Spotify investor Sean Parker, portrayed by Justin Timberlake as largely manipulative.
Sony email leaks show Zuckerberg had tried to stop the movie from being released, while he later said the film “made up stuff that was hurtful.”
After that era came “Cambridge Analytica Mark” or “evil Mark,” based on the 2018 scandal that would make The Social Network look like a Zuckerberg puff piece by comparison.
Facebook shared the data of millions of Americans with the political consultancy Cambridge Analytica in the run-up to the 2016 Presidential election, in a violation of privacy laws that had huge ramifications for users’ online data.
Zuckerberg took responsibility for the scandal and Meta paid a massive fine. Public perception of the CEO, who was perceived by some as Orwellian and driven by profits over ethics, fell to an all-time low.
In the years since the privacy scandal has blown over, Ek now observes a third Zuckerberg. It’s most likely the CEO’s most flattering persona yet.
“He’s learned a lot over these past few years and he has a new fire in the belly. He’s realized he needs to act responsibly because he’s got this enormous platform,” Ek told Forbes.
“But there’s still some of the old Mark, where he is betting on things even though everyone tells him ‘this is never gonna work.’”
Zuckerberg rebranded Facebook to Meta in late 2021 in order to move the group’s focus to the Metaverse and AI. While the company’s value plummeted in the months after the switch, it is slowly returning closer to its peak.
Meta’s turnaround involved a ruthless firing streak by Zuckerberg, part of what he described in February 2023 as a “year of efficiency.” The CEO swung the axe on more than 20,000 jobs between the fall of last year and the spring of 2023 to cut costs. The move, while brutal, appears to have improved Zuckerberg’s perception among investors
Opinions of Zuckerberg as a person, meanwhile, have been handed a boost by his extracurricular activities.
He is regularly pictured training with star MMA fighters or wakeboarding with friends. Meanwhile, his proposed fight with Elon Musk seems to have thrust Zuckerberg into the character of a “jock.”
‘A great friend and dedicated father’
Ek and Zuckerberg have a long-lasting friendship, which has flourished since both started their companies in the mid-2000s and Zuckerberg began eyeing the streaming group as a possible investment. However, the lines of their relationship have at times been blurred between professional and personal.
After attending Ek’s wedding at Lake Como in 2016, Zuckerberg took to Facebook to pay respect to his friend.
“Many people know Daniel as one of the great European entrepreneurs—the founder of Spotify. I know him as a great friend and dedicated father,” Zuckerberg wrote.
But back in 2011, Facebook was accused of giving Spotify preferential treatment when Ek was invited to share the stage with Zuckerberg at the social media site’s F8 event to discuss his platform—a privilege not offered to Facebook’s other music partners.
Representatives for Ek and Zuckerberg didn’t immediately respond to Fortune’s request for comment.