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Facebook, Wall Street: Friends with Benefits

Quirky, pioneering companies have long viewed the initial public offering process not only as a chance to raise money but also as an unparalleled PR opportunity—the ultimate expression of their values. In the 1980s ice cream makers Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield offered stock to their Vermont neighbors and to the local dairy farmers who were supplying them with milk. In 1995, Boston Beer, the maker of Samuel Adams, announced via ads on its bottles that any loyal drinker could buy into the company at $15 a share. Most famously, in 2004, Google tried to dilute the influence of the big investment banks and ran a so-called Dutch auction, letting prospective investors collectively set the price by submitting blind bids for shares. “It was a uniquely Googley experience,” wrote Chairman Eric Schmidt in the Harvard Business Review in 2010, “that to this day says a lot about who we are.”

Now we come to the most high-profile market debut since Google’s—the Facebook IPO. Mark Zuckerberg and his colleagues are ready to cap one of the greatest entrepreneurial stories of all time with a public offering that will value the company at $75 billion to $100 billion, according to Bloomberg News. That’s roughly four times Yahoo!’s market capitalization, double EBay’s, and around the same valuation as, with its dozens of fulfillment centers around the world. Belying its reputation as a company defined by its users, Facebook appears to be preparing for an entirely conventional IPO, with none of the egalitarian aspirations that characterized those offbeat offerings of the past. By bringing in some of the country’s biggest and most recognizable banks to manage the IPO, Facebook has not only guaranteed those institutions a huge payday; it has also aligned itself with Wall Street at a time when public hostility toward the financial establishment is higher than ever.