Dec 19, 2022 - Economy

"No one wants the job": Elon Musk's Twitter management problem

Illustration of the Twitter logo cutout from the jobs page in a newspaper.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Elon Musk’s sudden suggestion that he’d step down as head of Twitter poses a potentially unanswerable question: Is there anyone out there willing and able to manage this mess with Musk looming over their shoulder?

Why it matters: Musk himself hinted on Twitter that he believes the answer is no.

  • “No one wants the job who can actually keep Twitter alive," he wrote. "There is no successor."
  • Of note: Twitter’s revenue has reportedly cratered since Musk took over and began making changes that spooked advertisers.

Driving the news: In a Twitter poll Musk posted last night, 57.5% of the more than 17 million respondents said that he should step down. He pledged to abide by the results.

The big question: Would anything change if he stepped down from active management of Twitter?

  • “I agree with him — I don’t think anyone else can run it,” University of Michigan business professor Erik Gordon tells Axios. “If you take that job, you’re not CEO of anything. You’re Musk’s minion.”

Yes, but: At SpaceX, Musk leans heavily on the company’s president, Gwynne Shotwell, to run operations. She’s remained largely out of the spotlight, keeping the rockets — and government contracts — flying.

  • But at Tesla, there’s never been a clear No. 2. It’s all Elon. Which is partially why Tesla’s stock has suffered so much since he began his Twitter affair.
  • Musk could not be reached for comment.

Be smart: The recent plunge in Tesla’s stock price could be motivation enough for Musk to hand over the Twitter reins to someone else.

  • “Attention focused on Twitter instead of golden child Tesla has been another big issue for investors and likely is behind this poll result with many Musk loyalists wanting him to leave as CEO of Twitter,” Wedbush Securities analyst Dan Ives wrote in a research note.

💭 Our thought bubble: With Musk still looming large, it’s hard to envision any prospective Twitter successor being given the autonomy they’d need to carry out their own vision.

  • Musk's reputation for mercurial management and his track record of swiftly dismissing deputies could make it difficult to find someone willing to do the job.

The bottom line: “The problem isn’t that Twitter is so hard to run that only a person as smart as Elon can run it,” Gordon says. “It’s that nobody can run it if Elon owns it.”

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