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Menlo-Atherton grad behind the scenes of Facebook's IPO

Menlo Park native organizes launch day event

When Tom Wirth graduated from Menlo-Atherton High School in 1975, not many people outside California had heard of Menlo Park. That all changed Friday, May 18, in part thanks to the man who organized the Facebook event that helped put Menlo Park on the map around the world.

More than 2,000 employees crowded into the central courtyard at Facebook's new headquarters at 1 Hacker Way in Menlo Park to watch founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg announce his company's first public stock offering. "It was scary smooth," Mr. Wirth said. "We didn't have any last-minute issues that we could control. The (news) helicopters, that we couldn't control. It was so smooth that it was kind of hard to relax this morning because we were always waiting for something, but it was an amazing event."

The launch of Facebook's IPO went almost exactly as planned, with one small twist -- some employees managed to hack the "opening day bell." When Mr. Zuckerberg pressed the button to officially mark the stock's debut on NASDAQ, it triggered an automatic posting to his Facebook page: "Mark Zuckerberg listed a company on NASDAQ. -- with Chris Cox and 4 others."

Mr. Wirth started transforming the courtyard three days earlier, coordinating with a production company, security teams, public relations staff, the design team, and, of course, the culinary team, which handed out breakfast sandwiches during the event. He walked to the courtyard around 4 a.m. on Friday and found employees already there, waiting. The Philz Coffee stand opened at 5 a.m.

It was actually not the largest -- or hardest -- event Mr. Wirth has tackled since starting at Facebook. Even hosting President Barack Obama at the company's Palo Alto office last year doesn't claim that spot.

What does? "The move to Menlo Park was far more stressful," he said. "Moving the entire company over two weekends."

He went to work for Facebook in 2010, first as a contractor, later as the fulltime facilities and operations manager, after dropping out of college to work at Apple, Cisco, and then Google.

"I decided college wasn't for me. Dad tried to get me to stay in college but I was smarter than he was," Mr. Wirth said, laughing. He said he thrives on the variety and challenge of the service industry, never knowing what's going to happen to make the day's plans change. Today was an anomaly, he noted, and chuckled. "I wish I could say I was involved with the listing day event at Apple and Cisco and Google. If I was, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be sitting here today."

Now grown with a family of his own, Mr. Wirth eventually settled in San Jose. He talked about how cool it was to be working a few miles from where he grew up in Menlo Park. "It's changed, but it really hasn't changed. The first time I came up here, I knew my way around," he recalled. "I played baseball at Kelly Park back in the day. It feels like home even though I don't live here."

Mr. Wirth's work occasionally follows him home. He attended his 35th-year high school reunion last year, an event he learned about after getting a friend request on Facebook from a former classmate. "It was kind of surreal," he said. "Kind of neat, reconnecting with my high school days using the platform built by the company I work for."

By 2 p.m. on Friday, the facilities manager said you couldn't even tell an event had overtaken the courtyard that morning. Many employees, tired from the all-night Hackathon that preceded launch day, had crawled home to bed, while others returned to work.

Asked what personal impact the $16 billion IPO had on him, Mr. Wirth chuckled and said, "Sleep deprivation."

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