Apr 15, 2022 - Technology

Musk takeover drama wears on Twitter employees

Photo Illustration by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The chaos surrounding Elon Musk's hostile takeover bid is starting to wear on Twitter employees already buffeted by two weeks of ups and downs resulting from Musk's volatile efforts to change the company.

Why it matters: Former CEO and co-founder Jack Dorsey spent years cultivating a culture of transparency at Twitter, empowering employees to speak freely on Slack and demand answers to tricky questions. While company leaders are trying to honor that tradition, there's not much they can legally say at this point.

Driving the news: At an all-hands meeting on Thursday afternoon, Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal acknowledged the strain the saga was causing for employees, but said he would focus his energy on things he could control.

  • Agrawal said he couldn't discuss Twitter's options in great detail for legal reasons, but tried his best to assure Twitter's roughly 7,500 full-time employees that Twitter's board would do what was best for shareholders.
  • He spent time explaining the board's fiduciary responsibility to shareholders and the valuable assets of the company, which includes employees.
  • Asked by one employee whether he thought Musk acquiring Twitter would serve the public conversation — a mantra of Twitter's — Agrawal said, "Why don't you ask him," a moment one source described as the most off-the-cuff response of the session.
  • Sources in the meeting said he tried to make a conscious effort to provide anxious staffers with as much information as possible without speculating about Twitter's options. He was walking a "tightrope," one noted.
  • The meeting was broadcast globally to all employees. Twitter's chief marketing officer Leslie Berland fielded the questions to Agrawal.

Between the lines: Leading up to Musk's hostile takeover bid, employees were on edge, but not panicked, according to multiple sources inside Twitter.

  • When Musk first disclosed on April 4 that he owned a 9.2% stake in Twitter — making him the company's largest shareholder — employees didn't know what to make of the news.
  • But days later, after Musk was awarded a board seat — preventing him from attempting a hostile takeover — many said they felt relieved, and a few were optimistic.
  • One source said they saw Musk's presence on the board as possibly a healthy addition to its diversity of thought. Others shared concerns on Slack.
  • But after Agrawal announced Musk would no longer be joining the board, and that "there will be distractions ahead," skepticism started to set in.

Be smart: Most employees found out about the takeover bid from news reports early Thursday morning. Throughout the day, Twitter's Slack channels filled with questions about what the news meant for the company and job security.

The big picture: Adding to Twitter's stress, its leadership is still settling in to recent changes.

  • Agrawal, the company's former technology chief, replaced Dorsey as CEO last November after, as sources told Axios, an activist investor pushed Dorsey out.

The bottom line: "It's the speculation of the unknown that's hardest on folks," one source said. "And what that means for jobs."

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