Although CEOs and the first engineers are often the ones most lionized for creating the founding blocks of great companies, there are others who shape corporate culture in ways that are sometimes hard to appreciate or see.
Early Facebook employees today are reeling from the loss of the company’s executive chef, Josef Desimone, who was poached from Google back in 2008. He died of an apparent motorcycle accident, according to CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
I have some very sad news to share.
This morning Josef Desimone, our executive chef, was involved in a motorcycle accident and I’m sorry to report that Josef has passed away.
Josef was a Facebook legend and institution. “Chef Josef” joined us in 2008 and built our culinary team from a handful of employees in a single café into a global team with dozens of world class restaurants. He never compromised on quality while maintaining total attention to detail. Josef played an incredibly important role in defining our culture during those first years and right up to the present.
Away from Facebook, Josef was just as energetic and driven. Almost every weekend he was volunteering with veterans’ organizations, hosting firefighter breakfasts or supporting some other valuable cause. He had a strong belief in giving back more in life than he took, and it shows in all the people who mourn him today.
We will find a way to permanently honor Josef’s legacy at Facebook soon. For now, let’s remember and celebrate the passing of a great friend, devoted mentor and inspirational leader.
Many Facebook employees are posting memories of Desimone. Current employees referred me to the press department and I’ve reached out to former employees as well. Facebook hasn’t added anything beyond Zuckerberg’s statement yet.
In any case, people remember him as someone who valued high quality and who was deeply caring and empathetic. He joined Facebook five years ago and set up the company’s culinary teams in multiple offices around the world. Said one early Faceboook engineer Wayne Chang, Desimone would often exclaim, “I have the best job in the entire world!” on countless status updates.
He also took care to be inclusive of many cultures in Facebook’s menu and daily meals. One time, when an engineer asked him to host a feast in honor of a Persian festival named Nowruz, he went out of his way to research Iranian cuisine by going out to local restaurants and asking for advice from employees of Iranian descent. The menu ended up including: lavash bread, a white fish dish called mahi sefeed, lamb and chicken kebabs, a cucumber and tomato salad along with spinach and yogurt.
Elliot Schrage, a very longtime Facebook employee who is the vice president of communications and public policy, said:
I’m one of many people who’s life was improved by knowing Josef L. Desimone. He was an extraordinary person — passionate, dedicated, inspirational. He helped shape the culture that exists at Facebook today and built a team (indeed, a company) that will carry on his legacy. We’ll miss him greatly
David Recordon, an engineer manager at Facebook, also said:
Sitting next to Chef Josef throughout 2010 was such an amazing experience. Always going out of his way to bring people together across the company, super caring to those around him and was a mentor whether that’s around cooking or the leadership which went into doing it really well at scale.
Corey Owens, who was a public policy manager at Facebook before joining Uber, wrote:
Chef Josef L. Desimone was one if the very first people I met at Facebook. He struck up a conversation with the awkward new kid, filled his belly with the feeling of home, and was a constant reminder of the things in life to be thankful for. Struck down way, way too soon – but somebody who made every moment count and made a lot of lives better along the way. Thanks for everything Chef.
Audrey Kim, who was an account strategist at Google when Desimone worked there, wrote:
Thank you, Josef L. Desimone for sharing your incredible culinary gift and generous heart with me. My life is better because I knew you, was nurtured by and learned from your kind, loving spirit. Heaven is so lucky now to have your sweet potato fries and garlic mac&cheese. Can’t wait for your big big hugs when we all see each other again.
If you knew Desimone personally and have any more memories you’d like to share, please post them in the comments and we’ll add.