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Confidence Lacking in Zuckerberg as Corporate Steward

Despite the fever-pitch hype over Facebook’s initial public offering, confidence in the company’s chief executive is lacking.

Mark Zuckerberg
Mark Zuckerberg

Half (50 percent) of Americans haven’t made up their minds about Mark Zuckerberg, according to a new AP-CNBC poll. About a third of the public (36 percent) polled said they have a favorable impression of him, but perhaps most revealing — only 18 percent are “very confident” in his ability to run a large public company.

For a guy with complete control over what Wall Street expects to be a $100 billion company, most of which is other people’s money, it’s unusual that he prompts such a tepid response — especially given his visibility generated by the Hollywood movie “The Social Network.”

These days, high-profile CEOs seem more likely targets of hostility than apathy — think Jamie Dimon, Scott Thompson, Lloyd Blankfein, or Rupert Murdoch. Their missteps attract a swift and brutal spotlight. Though Zuckerberg has yet to face-plant like some others, scrutiny is high and there is little room for error.

It is on this stage that the“move fast and break things” hoodie-wearing 28-year-old will make his debut, deus-ex-machina, on the Nasdaq. This executive joins a rare class of young tech CEOs and, it seems, the jury’s still out on him.

“I don’t have a strong view of Mark’s success or not, but Facebookis a strong company that has already achieved profitability,” said Dan Greenshields, president of INGDirect’s ShareBuilder, an online brokerage firm. “My guess is our customers don’t view him negatively, per se, and they may feel more connected to a young CEO.”

The average age ofSharebuilder’s customers is under 40, according to Greenshields — younger than typical brokerage firm clients.

“Our customers are all on Facebook. They understand the business model, and they’re calling and asking how to buy Facebook shares,” he added.

  • For complete poll results, click here.

The younger demographic is far more aware of who Mark Zuckerberg is than their older peers, according to the AP-CNBC poll. Of people under age 35, just 7 percent say they’ve never heard of him or don’t know what they think of him, versus 20 percent for all age groups.

This awareness appears to drive opinion, with nearly half (45 percent) of those under 35 having a positive impression of Zuckerberg, compared with 36 percent for all respondents.

Whether these young people are active investors or not might also influence their view of Zuckerberg: Forty-two percent of active investors (people who have made changes to their holding in the past month) said they have a positive impression of him, whereas only 14 percent of those polled view him unfavorably.

Those who don’t like Zuckerberg had a difficult time explaining why. Respondents did not cite his age, temperament, or reputation as significantly affecting his ability to run the company.

This lack of opinion may be better interpreted as a more lenient, “wait-and-see” approach being taken by most Americans. After all, the soon-to-be largest IPO in U.S. history was a company launched in a dorm room. How many other IPO roadshowswere started with a CEO wearing a hoodie?

“The hoodie doesn’t bother me too much. He is staying true to himself,” said JoAnne Farrell, 30, a web designer at a San Francisco e-commerce firm. “He is in a league of his own when you compare him to other tech CEOs.”

Facebook is expected to price after the bell on Thursday, May 17 and will begin trading on the Nasdaq on Friday, May 18 under the symbol FB.

-By CNBC's Jennifer Leigh Parker
@jparker741

-Associated Press contributed to this post.

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