SAN FRANCISCO – In a virtual meeting for Twitter executives last week, Parag Agrawal admitted he was exhausted.
Mr. Agrawal, CEO of Twitter, had spent the past six weeks leading the company through a $ 44 billion sale to Elon Musk, the richest man in the world. Some employees openly rebelled against their new owner, who had criticized the social networking service and its executives. Others were upset by Mr Agrawal’s recent corporate upheavals. And Mr. Musk seemed likely to force Mr. Agrawal out of his job.
At the meeting, Mr Agrawal was “raw” about Twitter issues and the hurricane of attention over Mr Musk’s deal, two people familiar with the matter said. But he also conveyed a sense of acceptance of his situation and said he would move forward with his plans for the company, they said.
Mr. Agrawal referred to areas that he said were key to improvement: Twitter’s core product, the company’s technology depth, business, freedom of speech across the platform and, most importantly, what leadership looks like. Some executives left the meeting excited, people said.
That’s what Mr. Agrawal could do given the circumstances. This is due to all the top jobs in technology, the 38-year-old is in something that may be the most impossible.
The Indian-born executive, protected by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, has been in charge of the company since November. Twitter was expected to change after years of lost growth and financial goals. However, Mr. Musk stepped in within a few months, effectively turning Mr. Agrawal into a lame duck who has to manage a restless workforce and tackle Twitter’s growing financial challenges before he is likely to leave the company.
“There is no one in the world who would like to be in these shoes,” said Bob Sutton, an organizational psychologist and professor at Stanford University.
However, even when Mr Agrawal addresses the situation, he is facing a gentle landing. If Mr. Musk fires him as CEO, Mr. Agrawal is expected to earn $ 60 million, according to securities deposits. (In November, he was awarded a compensation package with an annual salary of $ 1 million, plus bonuses, as well as limited units and shares based on a return of $ 12.5 million.)
Mr Agrawal appeared at the annual Twitter shareholders’ meeting on Wednesday. He and other executives said they could not discuss the terms of the deal, which shareholders would vote on at a later date, until the deal was closed. They also asked shareholders questions about Twitter products, misinformation and the importance of diversity and integration initiatives.
Twitter’s board also changed on Wednesday. It was Mr. Dorsey’s last day on the board. And Egon Durban, a private equity firm and Twitter board member, resigned after not getting enough shareholder votes to determine if he would continue to serve. Twitter’s board is considering his resignation, but could refuse and ask him to stay. the company is expected to issue a decision on Thursday.
Behind the scenes, officials and advisers said Mr Agrawal was working with bankers and board members to close the sale of Twitter to Mr Musk, although the billionaire recently suggested he wanted to renegotiate and made sharp comments about the company.
Mr. Agrawal has also doubled his plans to revise Twitter as much as he can. This month, it fired two top executives, cut most recruitments and cut discretionary spending after the company lost financial targets. He also plans to improve Twitter’s capabilities using machine learning and wants to make the platform more attractive to new users and move faster to new products, according to a presentation at a company meeting this month.
“I know we’re going through a period of uncertainty,” Agrawal was quoted as saying by the New York Times. “We are returning our focus to our work.”
Mr. Agrawal joined Twitter as an engineer in 2011 while completing his PhD in computer science at Stanford. He then steadily rose through the ranks of the company, and became chief technology officer in 2017. He has spent most of his career at the company and has more than 610,000 followers in the service.
As Chief Technology Officer, Mr. Agrawal worked on some of Twitter’s complex technical challenges and established relationships with his fellow engineers and Mr. Dorsey. Mr. Dorsey shared his vision that the future of Twitter depends on redesigning its technology so that it can rely more on machine learning and decentralize its services to give users more control over their platform experiences.
When Mr. Dorsey took over the reins of Mr. Agrawal in November, the engineer went from overseeing a handful of employees to managing more than 7,000 people. “My trust in him as our CEO is deep,” Dorsey said at the time.
Mr Agrawal made immediate changes. Days after he became CEO, he fired two top executives in charge of design and engineering. It gave the other leaders broader responsibilities. In an internal email seen by the Times, he stressed accountability, saying the new structure would clarify who was responsible for what tasks and speed up decision-making.
In January, Mr. Agrawal fired two security officials. In an internal note, he said the organization was not being run as expected, which was affecting top-priority work.
Some Twitter employees applauded the moves, saying some of the fired executives were sluggish or had intimidated employees. Others were shocked that Mr Agrawal had fired longtime leaders and found him unexplored.
By March, Mr. Musk had begun to build a large share on Twitter. On March 31, Mr. Agrawal spoke with Mr. Musk to propose him to join Twitter’s board, according to a regulatory submission. Mr. Musk initially agreed and then changed course. Mr Musk said he was also considering an attempt to make Twitter private and that he had an idea to start a new social media company, according to the report.
It was Mr. Agrawal’s first brush with Mr. Musk’s unpredictable style, which quickly became routine. Mr Musk soon launched a takeover bid for the company, sealed the deal and then put Mr Agrawal on Twitter for issues such as fake accounts. When Mr. Agrawal tried to address the concerns on Twitter, Mr. Musk responded by sending him a malicious emoji.
On Twitter, some officials fired Mr. Agrawal, according to 10 current and former employees who spoke on condition of anonymity. He told staff he could not share information about the deal with Mr Musk as details were fragmented. Initially he was also quiet at company meetings, they said, and was absent from an internal employee conversation.
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Mr Agrawal’s supporters said he had legal restrictions on sharing information about the deal with two people familiar with the matter, and internally expressed frustration that he could not initially say more about the deal. Following the signing of the agreement, Twitter held staff meetings and sent more than a dozen emails to inform employees. Last week, Twitter allowed officials to ask Vijaya Gadde, chief legal and political affairs officer, and Ned Segal, chief financial officer, questions about the deal.
Mr Agrawal’s supporters said he was more polite and charming in smaller groups. They added that his changes were long overdue, especially in a company that was resilient to change.
In Slack messages and group chats, other employees have expressed excitement about Mr. Musk’s ownership, believing his passion for Twitter could revitalize the company.
But Mr Agrawal has his critics. In company meetings in recent weeks, he sometimes said that nothing would change “right now.” Some officials scoffed at his comments, creating memes of Mr. Agrawal making these repeated assurances, people said.
Many employees remain unsure about their future in the company, several people said. Some are also sinking into the golden parachutes that Mr Agrawal and other top executives will receive if fired after the deal with Mr Musk is closed, people said.
Mr Agrawal has told confidants that he will carry out his plans instead of just waiting for Mr Musk to take over. After cutting costs and freezing almost all of the company’s hires this month, it tried to recruit employees.
“During this period of change, it is crucial that we continue to step up our work through increased responsibility and execution to make Twitter what it can be,” he wrote in an email to employees, which was seen by the Times. “Our purpose is existential.”
Ryan Mac contributed to the petition.