Solomon: Will Elon Musk Really Step Down as Twitter CEO?

On Sunday, Elon Musk did what very few CEOs do — he turned to social media to ask people whether he should be replaced as the head of Twitter. The Twitter poll, which he lost by a 57-43 margin, is Musk’s way out of a self-created mess. Musk has often tweeted the phrase “vox populi, vox Dei” since he began to “consult” Twitter users on policy issues. It is a Latin phrase meaning “the voice of the people is the voice of God.” Translated to the nuances of Twitter, it’s his take on “give the people who spend all this time on Twitter what they want.” Yet as New Jersey lawyer David Gelman pointed out, “No matter how much Elon Musk says that the voice of the people will determine major policy decisions on Twitter, polls are not legally binding. Musk can continue to run the business however he wants to.” As I predicted here last week, the pressure on Musk is rising exponentially. On the horizon is a $1 billion debt payment for the acquisition of Twitter. Pressure is coming at him from the Tesla side, where investors and other stakeholders have grown frustrated by a range of things, from his divided attention to his having sold $40 billion in Tesla stock this year to help fund his Twitter acquisition. The situation is far more reminiscent than Musk would like of Jack Dorsey’s tenure at the helm of Twitter, where stakeholders from both Twitter and Stripe criticized his leadership and suggested he step down from running Stripe, as they thought his attention was divided. Musk has more responsibilities outside Twitter than Dorsey ever did, so the pressure he must be feeling to make a leadership change at Twitter is palpable. By going the vox populi route, Musk can step down from running Twitter and save face by framing it as the people’s choice. It’s not that the decision to step down is only about optics. The new Twitter is running headlong into new European content rules that could cost Twitter up to 20 percent of its revenue through fines and also hold Musk personally liable were he to remain as CEO. To date, Musk has been highly operational in his tenure at the social media giant. He has functionally been both CEO and COO, plus pieces of many other roles. He could keep a streamlined CEO role and hire an experienced and talented operations person to help take a lot of the day-to-day pressure off. But Musk likes to go big, so the idea of replacing himself with a new CEO is what he took to the people. What’s obvious by now is that the new CEO will be deeply beholden to Musk. The idea that this person will challenge Musk, his leadership, or his vision for Twitter’s future in any way is a very long shot. The two most prominent names floating around the internet on Sunday night and Monday would perfectly fit his mold. Both Jason Calacanis and Jared Kushner (who was with Musk at Sunday’s World Cup final in Qatar) are big enough names to be taken seriously as Twitter CEO, yet would almost certainly run the company precisely as Musk wanted them to, with no real pushback. A pliant new CEO is going to be non-negotiable for Musk. For Kushner, who raised over $3 billion just a year ago to launch a venture capital firm with a focus on the Middle East, freeing himself up to actually be available for Musk seems an unlikely path. For Calacanis, a startup influencer and syndicate angel investor, becoming Twitter CEO is something he could and would make himself available for. What should we expect Twitter to look and feel like under a new CEO? Musk himself might have foreshadowed the answer on Sunday night: Putting a new CEO in his place is an immediate panacea for Musk’s public relations woes. Just put in someone to make even less popular decisions and blame it on the popular vote. Hey, you could have kept me around, but you voted me out. This is what you get. What’s vital for us all to remember is that, no matter who becomes Twitter CEO, if Musk actually follows through with his plan to step down, they will be taking instructions directly from Musk himself. No matter what kind of illusions Twitter creates to make it appear that the new CEO has autonomy, we need to remember that it has been and will continue to be Elon Musk’s circus, no matter who is the current ringmaster. This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.

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