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How this 2020 email may be behind Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s transformation from hoodie-wearing geek to gold chain-wearing CEO

Mark Zuckerberg‘s evolution from hoodie-wearing tech geek to attention-grabbing CEO may have its roots in a strategic email from 2020, newly revealed documents suggest. A recently unveiled email exchange from four years ago sheds light on Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s dramatic image overhaul, suggesting his transition from hoodie-clad tech nerd to muscular, chain-wearing CEO may have been a calculated move to appeal to millennials.
The emails, part of evidence filed in a lawsuit against Meta by the state of Tennessee, reveal discussions between Zuckerberg and former board member Peter Thiel about positioning Facebook – and Zuckerberg himself – as the voice of the millennial generation.
In an email dated January 4, 2020, Zuckerberg outlined plans to shift Facebook’s messaging towards millennials, acknowledging his role as a generational figurehead. “While our company has a special role in the lives of this generation, this is likely particularly important for how I show up because I am the most well-known person of my generation,” Zuckerberg wrote to Peter Thiel and his colleagues.
Peter Thiel wrote to Nick Clegg, the President of Global Affairs, had previously suggested in an email a week before Zuckerberg’s email to that Zuckerberg “has been cast as the spokesman for the Millennial generation” and was seen as “the single person who gives voice to the hopes and fears and the unique experiences of this generation, at least in the USA.”

Zuckerberg’s response revealed his intention to lean into this role: “I think this overall shift is something we should consider for how our company communicates and shows up more broadly, but it’s something I’m definitely going to think about more in terms of how I communicate.”
The emails reveal a conscious effort to position Facebook as “the Millennial company par excellence,” as Thiel put it. Zuckerberg agreed, stating, “If we embrace that we are a company that is playing a disproportionate role in defining the experience of this generation as we grow and evolve, that could also be clarifying in terms of how we talk and who we’re talking to.”
Since 2020, Zuckerberg’s public image has indeed undergone a striking transformation. He has swapped his signature gray t-shirts for shearling jackets and gold chains, and regularly shares videos of himself engaged in extreme sports and martial arts.

Zuckerberg’s latest viral moment came on July 4th, 2024, when he posted an Instagram video of himself hydrofoiling while wearing a tuxedo. The Meta CEO captioned the post with a simple “Happy birthday, America!” The last we saw Zuckerberg doing water sports before this, he was wearing a low-key scuba suit.

This makeover seems to align with the strategy outlined in the emails, aiming to make Zuckerberg more relatable to his generational peers. And his image overhaul seems to be paying off. Spotify founder Daniel Ek told Forbes that Zuckerberg’s new public persona appears “a lot more authentic,” noting a “new fire in the belly.”

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