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The reaction to the departure of the social media giant's founder was revealing
Thursday 09 Dec 2021 Author: Tom Sieber

Big tech and maverick bosses go together like copy and paste or fish and chips. So, what should we read into the fact that when the jungle drums started beating, when it became clear that Jack Dorsey (pictured) was indeed stepping down from his position as Twitter head, the share price went up?

Before the announcement his last tweet had professed his love for the platform but in truth there were numerous investors who’d questioned his focus. Like many mavericks Dorsey enjoys variety and for the last six years he’d been effectively operating as a part time CEO after launching small business payment company Square which became a distraction.

Square needed nurturing, it was new and shiny, and Twitter trudged on making money, sometimes making waves but not necessarily making the most of its opportunities. Unfavourable comparisons were made, particularly in terms of driving advertising revenue, with rivals like Google and Facebook.


Behind the scenes there’s plenty of gossip that Dorsey’s departure wasn’t as amiable as it’s been presented. Was it really his decision or was he gently manoeuvred out of the door? Certainly, it is odd that he’s not retaining a place on the board.

Thinking of a similar power shift at Amazon, which saw the new boss appointed from within just like at Twitter, Jeff Bezos still has his name firmly on the door. It’s comforting for investors to know the brains behind the operation is still keeping a watchful eye over their replacement.

Instead Dorsey is making a clean break and initially investors didn’t seem unhappy to see him go, in fact news of his departure saw the shares make double-digit gains.

But as investors digested the new reality it wasn’t the crowd pleaser it seemed initially and by the end of the day the shares were down.

The new Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal might be a safe pair of hands. Having previously been chief technology officer, he might have been behind ‘every critical decision that helped turn this company around’ according to the man he’s replacing. But a maverick? So far, the evidence doesn’t point that way.


The thing about tech companies, the reason so many of the good ones have their founders at their helm is because they’ve started out as crazy ideas. A bright spark that took a little bit of crazy to make them work. Can you imagine Tesla without Elon Musk, Facebook without Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon without Bezos?

The latter comparison is an interesting one because Amazon does now have a new man at the top. But in Andy Jassy Amazon investors trust, and, on the day he finally took over, the share price did a happy little dance.

Jassy might have been plucked from within but he has maverick credentials in spades. He founded Amazon Web Services, the bit of Amazon that is now the company’s profit engine and is widely expected to be its driving force over the next decade.

And even if Bezos is more focused on blasting through physical cloud layers than the tech version these days, he is still very much part of the brand.

It might be better for Agrawal that Dorsey isn’t taking the same approach. Particularly as he’s given up the CEO reins before only to slide right back in.

Agrawal has already been flexing his muscles, announcing the platform will both remove images of private individuals shared without their consent and the removal of almost 3,500 ‘state backed information operations’. Small but important steps, a show of strength and perhaps a taste of greater governance that critics have been crying out for.


But neither of those things were enough to placate investors who’d been hoping for a dynamic new broom. There will be some thinking back to the 14 years of irrelevance for Microsoft between its two visionaries – founder Bill Gates and current CEO Satya Nadella – and wondering if the same fate will befall Twitter.

Agrawal barely has his feet under the table so it’s incredibly unfair to write him off before he’s even had chance to change the paint colours in that corner office, but investors will want at least a few quick, colourful wins.

Twitter might have got over the permanent ban of arguably it’s most prolific tweeter. Donald Trump’s absence from the platform didn’t hinder its fourth quarter earnings update and its stock reached record highs in the month that followed.

But since then, there has been a dearth of excitement. The papers have been full of suggestions of how the new CEO can rejuvenate the platform. Introduce an edit button, clamp down on bots, create more lucrative subscription models, for example.

But it’s policing hate speech and delivering greater transparency over the use of algorithms that will undoubtedly be right at the top of Agrawal’s very long to-do list. And there are no quick or easy wins there.

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