UPDATE 4-Facebook hires Google exec to lead M&A efforts

Mon Mar 14, 2011 8:40pm GMT

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* Google's Zoufonoun to join Facebook next week

* Will lead M&A at Facebook, build out team - source (Adds background, byline)

By Alexei Oreskovic

SAN FRANCISCO , March 14 (Reuters) - Facebook has hired a member of Google Inc's (GOOG.O) corporate development team to lead its fledgling merger and acquisition efforts, as the world's No. 1 Internet social network shows a growing appetite for deals.

Amin Zoufonoun, a director of corporate development at Google, will join Facebook next week, the firm told Reuters on Monday.

The move -- the latest high-profile defection from the search giant to Facebook -- underscores the growing rivalry between the two Internet powers. And it comes as Facebook steps up its acquisitions, which to date have primarily been small start-ups it has bought for engineering talent rather than actual products.

"I think for sure over time they expect to do bigger and bigger deals," said a source familiar with the matter.

"They've certainly got the stock and cash to do those kinds of things. So I expect them to be more active."

As Facebook builds up its M&A team, the company could increasingly vie with Google, which acquired more than 40 companies in 2010, for deals to snap up hot Internet start-ups.

Google's M&A chief David Lawee told Reuters in an interview last year that the search giant regularly faces off against a half-dozen rivals for deals, including Apple Inc (AAPL.O) and Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O). [ID:nN20110677]

Earlier this month, Facebook said it had acquired Beluga, which makes a group messaging product for use on mobile devices, reflecting Facebook's increasing focus on developing mobile services for its 500-million-plus member online social network.

Zoufonoun, who has worked at Google since 2003, according to a biography on LinkedIn, will report to Facebook's Vaughan Smith, who oversees the company's overall corporate development efforts. But Zoufonoun will become the key person overseeing Facebook's M&A efforts and will be tasked with hiring more people for the M&A team, according to the source, who asked to remain anonymous.

A Facebook spokesperson said Zoufonoun will join Facebook as director of corporate development, but declined to elaborate. Google had no immediate comment.

Last year, Facebook acquired 10 companies, its most ever, including location service HotPotato and Chai Labs, according to the blog Inside Facebook. The blog quoted Smith as saying the company hoped to do "doublish" the number of deals in 2011.

Facebook, which is privately held, recently raised $1.5 billion from investors including Goldman Sachs and Digital Sky Technologies, as well as through a private offering to overseas investors conducted by Goldman Sachs, at a valuation of roughly $50 billion.

Earlier this month, investment firm General Atlantic bought a stake in Facebook at a $65 billion valuation, according to a report on CNBC.

Zoufonoun's move is the latest sign of Facebook's ambitious expansion plans and underscores the rivalry between the social networking company and Google.

Facebook's popularity threatens to siphon consumers' online time and advertising dollars from Google's Internet search engine.

And Facebook has repeatedly reached into Google's executive and engineering ranks to bolster its own workforce, with Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, Vice President of Advertising and Global Operations David Fischer and mobile head Erick Tseng, among others, all coming from Google.

(Reporting by Alexei Oreskovic, Editing by Gerald E. McCormick, Gunna Dickson and Richard Chang)