Assuming all goes to plan, Elon Musk won’t actually own Twitter for another few months but his swift deal for the company left watchers wondering what his takeover will mean for its management team. Will CEO Parag Agrawal, who’s only held that position for four months, stick around? Will Musk, who already helms multiple companies, try to run the platform himself? Could cofounder Jack Dorsey, who just left to focus on running payments company Block, return to an executive role?
Musk, of course, is notoriously unpredictable but one thing seems clear: Twitter’s leadership will likely look much different after the deal than it does today.
There are a few obvious initial indicators that this will happen. Twitter’s board on Monday announced it had agreed to sell the social media company to Musk in a deal valued at $44 billion. The deal came just 11 days after Musk — who was initially offered a seat on the company’s board but declined — made what he called his “best and final” offer for the company. In his offer letter, Musk said, “I don’t have confidence in management.”
In an all-hands meeting for employees that Agrawal and board chair Bret Taylor held later Monday, Taylor said the company’s board of directors “no longer exists on the other side of this transaction.”
Then on Tuesday, Musk publicly criticized two of the company’s top legal executives on Twitter, leading each to face a barrage of hateful comments on the platform.
“[Musk is] probably not happy with the management team and the board, and I think that’s a big reason why the initial offer to sit on the board and see how things play out over the next two years is something he just wasn’t interested in,” said Angelo Zino, senior industry analyst at CFRA Research.
Twitter declined to comment on this story. Musk did not respond to a request for comment.
The fate of Twitter’s CEO
Many analysts agree that Agrawal will probably be among those ousted when Musk’s acquisition closes. Agrawal told employees on Monday that he is “optimistic” about the company’s future, but it was already unclear what kind of working relationship he would have with Musk. After it was announced that Agrawal would take over the top job from Dorsey in November, Musk tweeted a photo comparing the new CEO to former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.
“It’s hard for me to see a situation where [Agrawal] remains as CEO after the deal,” said Daniel Newman, principal analyst at tech research firm Futurum Research. “It’s unfortunate because I don’t think his tenure was long enough to actually fully indict him. … I just think with Musk’s comments, it’s pretty clear that he wants to go in kind of a hard right from where the strategy was,” he said.
In some ways, the leadership shakeup — if it does happen — may reflect Twitter (TWTR)’s longstanding struggles to turn its powerful user base and outsized influence in the worlds of media and politics into a healthy business, according to Wedbush analyst Dan Ives. Twitter (TWTR) shares are currently trading only 15% higher than their IPO price from nearly 10 years ago, compared to rival Facebook (FB) whose stock has gained 273% over the same period.
Musk will also likely seek to shift the internal culture at Twitter to better align with his vision for the company.
It’s not exactly clear what that vision is. On one hand, Musk has said he wants to “unlock” Twitter’s “enormous potential.” But on the other, he’s said his acquisition is not about money and made suggestions for the platform, such as removing content restrictions, that could run counter to Twitter’s core advertising revenue model. Whatever his plans, Musk will almost certainly want to stack the company’s management team with leaders who are on the same page.
“He’ll be hiring people that understand his vision, understand the kind of work, product and culture he’s trying to create,” Newman said. “There’s no question that this is going to be a 180-degree culture shift. Tesla is known as being a very hard culture, pretty demanding of people, [while] Twitter was kind of seen as a little bit of a softer culture, a little more thoughtful about people and obviously was very attentive to a lot of social issues. … I think Musk is going to be very prudent to make sure he sorts out the talent who he thinks can help him carry his mission forward.”
Even if Musk does clean house at Twitter, it seems unlikely that the Tesla and SpaceX CEO will want to run Twitter himself, at least not for long, given his many commitments.
He would also almost certainly learn quickly about the not-so-fun parts of being a social media CEO. Such a role faces intense scrutiny and risks being called to testify before lawmakers about decisions related to harmful content, data privacy and more. Already, Musk has received a warning from EU Commissioner Theirry Breton that Twitter must abide by Europe’s heightened new standards for content moderation or else risk fines or even a possible ban.
Musk may want to avoid putting himself in that position, given how reliant his other companies are on government contracts.
Many followers of the company are now speculating about whether Musk might encourage Dorsey — who stepped down as CEO in November and is set to leave the board in May — to return to a leadership role at Twitter after the deal is complete. While the Twitter cofounder also has other things on his plate as the CEO of financial services firm Block, Musk and Dorsey seem to get along, and may agree on a vision for the platform.
The two eccentric, billionaire, crypto-loving tech titans have traded friendly remarks on Twitter over the years. When Twitter was facing pressure from an activist investor in 2020, Musk tweeted: “Just want [to] say that I support @Jack as Twitter CEO. He has a good ❤️.” More recently, Musk complimented the new “Block Head” title Dorsey has taken on at Block.
On Monday night, Dorsey responded to Musk’s planned acquisition of Twitter in a somewhat cryptic tweet thread, which kicked off with a link to the Radiohead song “Everything In Its Right Place.”
“Elon’s goal of creating a platform that is ‘maximally trusted and broadly inclusive’ is the right one,” Dorsey said. “This is the right path…I believe it with all my heart.”
Dorsey also noted that Twitter has been “my sole issue and my biggest regret,” saying, “It has been owned by Wall Street and the ad model. Taking it back from Wall Street is the correct first step.”
In recent weeks, Dorsey has criticized Twitter’s board and suggested he takes issue with its stance as a public company.
“It wants to be a public good at a protocol level, not a company,” Dorsey said. “Solving for the problem of it being a company however, Elon is the singular solution I trust.”
In some ways, a Dorsey return under Musk would seem surprising. The Twitter cofounder oversaw the platform during many of its struggles to grow its user base and increase profits. Dorsey has also undoubtedly had at least some influence on Twitter’s existing culture, which Musk may try to overhaul. And Twitter has said Dorsey was responsible for many of the company’s biggest and most controversial decisions, most notably removing former President Donald Trump’s account, which Musk appears to oppose.
Still, if Musk’s plans for Twitter align with “what Dorsey saw the company as but lost his handle on it over the years, it could be an interesting way for him to return and run the company that he always envisioned running but never had the support to do,” Newman said.