I used to say, "Don't bet against Elon Musk." The multi-enterprise hyphenate has built and guided businesses, some of them society-altering, across space, transportation, energy, brain science, and AI. He was, for a brief time, our own Tony Stark. But Twitter has been his Waterloo, and his departure as CEO cannot come soon enough.
Is it all theater? Ever since Musk carted a kitchen sink into Twitter's San Francisco headquarters, it's been a wild ride, unlike anything I've ever seen before in the annals of tech corporate history.
Musk might as well have been carrying his own regret. He made it clear before taking over that he didn't want to do it. Since he initially made his wildly overpriced offer for the company in April of this year, Musk insisted that Twitter was hiding the scale of its bot problem, and that what he sought to buy wasn't what he might get.
That battle raged throughout the summer until Musk, cornered, took over and immediately started slashing through the organization, cutting half the workforce and its leadership, and then engineering the exit of thousands more through a series of draconian workplace measures.
You might charitably call Musk's actions unpredictable; others would characterize them as reckless.
It culminated in Musk, in a seeming fit of pique, polling site members about whether or not he should stay on as CEO. As with previous Twitter polls, like the one where he asked if he should reinstate Former President Trump's account, Musk promised to abide by the results of the poll. However, when things didn't go as planned, and 57% of the 17 million voters called for his ouster, Musk didn't act. Eventually, he would blame bots, and then suggest that a better way to conduct such Twitter policy polls would be by only allowing paying Twitter Blue members to vote. Some equated this to a poll tax.
Should I step down as head of Twitter? I will abide by the results of this poll.December 18, 2022
Musk finally announced on Tuesday that, yes, he would resign as CEO, "as soon as I find someone foolish enough to take the job! After that, I will just run the software & servers teams."
It's not clear if the executive search has begun in earnest and, well, way to sell a position, guy.
Later that day, Musk hopped on a Twitter spaces chat and revealed what might be the method to this madness. According to Musk's favored biographer Ashlee Vance, who listened in on the conversation, Musk noted the dire financial situation of the company, saying the company might spend $5 billion next year, is shouldered with $1.5 billion in debt from his transaction (to buy Twitter) and, faces a $3 billion negative cash flow in 2023.
"That is why I spent the last five weeks cutting costs like crazy," Musk said, according to Vance.
What's not mentioned here is the obvious damage Musk has done to Twitter's advertising base and revenue stream. It's hard for brands, which don't really care about free speech as much as they do in protecting their brands, to trust a platform that might put their promoted tweets alongside incendiary content.
This bit, though, jumped out at me. Vance tweeted that Musk talked about how some of his actions may seem "spurious or odd." He blames the fire drill situation.
This almost makes sense, except for all the self-inflicted wounds. Musk's insistence, for instance, on publishing Twitter's internal documents as if they were Pentagon Papers, which illustrate a company struggling with moderation decisions and normal corporate procedures that Musk is clearly unfamiliar with, makes him seem more than reckless and hell-bent on destroying Twitter.
His characterization of every bit of it as part of a vast conspiracy is inflaming those who already believe that the system is rigged and elections were stolen. None of that is true, but Musk has decided to make Twitter conspiracy central.
These are not the actions of a qualified CEO. I don't think I've ever been as deeply disappointed in a tech figure as I am in Elon Musk. When I met him a decade ago, he was open, funny, shy, driven, and confident in fulfilling what seemed like some wild dreams. The current Musk is petty, bitter, thin-skinned, and, more shockingly, a poor leader.
Musk has promised to leave, or at least leave his leadership role and get his hands dirty in engineering. That's the good news, a real, potential holiday gift. Let's just hope he can find the exit, and soon.
Yes, I'm betting against Elon.
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A 35-year industry veteran and award-winning journalist, Lance has covered technology since PCs were the size of suitcases and “on line” meant “waiting.” He’s a former Lifewire Editor-in-Chief, Mashable Editor-in-Chief, and, before that, Editor in Chief of PCMag.com and Senior Vice President of Content for Ziff Davis, Inc. He also wrote a popular, weekly tech column for Medium called The Upgrade.
Lance Ulanoff makes frequent appearances on national, international, and local news programs including Live with Kelly and Ryan, Fox News, Fox Business, the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNBC, CNN, and the BBC.