Elon Musk defies management mantras with his speedy Twitter overhaul

In Elon Musk’s first week at Twitter Inc., he flouted much of the advice that management gurus have offered for decades.

The billionaire’s quick actions contrast with those of many new leaders, who often use the first 90 days to meet with employees, listen to concerns and assess how to improve a company’s products before embarking on changes in strategy, the experts say. managers and business advisors.

“At a minimum, this is an untraditional approach,” said Joel Peterson, the former chairman of JetBlue Airways. Corp.

, who has served on dozens of boards and advised CEOs across industries. “It’s iconoclastic, it’s unusual, it’s not what everyone would do, but I don’t really blame him.”

The massive layoffs at Twitter have eliminated about half of the company’s workforce.


Leonardo Munoz/VIEWPress/Getty Images

Mr. Musk, who once described himself to the Wall Street Journal as a “nano-manager” grounded in the smallest details, appears to be using many of the management tactics he deployed to create his other companies, Tesla. Inc.

and Space Exploration Technologies Corp., say the executives and advisers. These include a practical obsession with product decisions, a distaste for corporate structures, and a focus on speed. Tesla is now the world’s most valuable automaker and SpaceX is the world’s busiest rocket launch operation.

Management scholars have long said that the first months of a leader’s tenure are critical, a time when business leaders can plan their agenda and begin resetting a corporate culture. Well-known books on the subject, such as “You’re in Charge—Now What?” say new leaders need to strike a balance, set expectations internally and shape their leadership team, all while learning about the organization.

Peter Crist, president of Crist Kolder Associates, an executive search firm, said new leaders typically spend the first few months seeking to understand the talent within a company, learning the strengths and weaknesses of employees before to make staffing changes.

“Normally an incoming CEO from the outside is not going to wipe the slate clean on day one,” Crist said, adding that rapid personnel changes can create uncertainty for workers who remain. “There has to be both a stabilization of the business model and, above all, a stabilization of the talents, and that has to happen quite quickly,” he said.

Mr. Musk is not the first corporate iconoclast. He is also more than familiar with Twitter, with over 100 million followers.

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On top of that, it’s acquiring a company that for years has lagged competitors in attracting users and generating revenue, and the industry globally is facing slow growth and other challenges. which have reduced the valuations of companies such as Facebook owner Meta Platforms. Inc.

Some of Mr. Musk’s early actions struck corporate veterans as routine. He spent part of his week meeting with advertisers on video calls and in other settings, in an effort to reassure customers that the platform remained a safe place for brands, the Journal reported. Several major advertisers, including General Mills Inc.

and Pfizer Inc.,

temporarily suspended their advertising. Mr Musk tweeted on Friday that Twitter had seen a massive drop in revenue, which he said was due to “activist groups pressuring advertisers”.

Hubert Joly, former CEO of retailer Best Buy Co.

, said listening visits with customers and employees can be helpful during the initial engineering period of a turnaround. When Mr. Joly took over the reins of Best Buy in 2012, he spent days in retail stores observing customer behavior and conducting pizza meetings with employees. During these gatherings, he asked three questions to the employees: “What works? What’s not working? What do you need?’ said Mr. Joly.

Elon Musk has bought Twitter, ending a month-long saga over whether or not he would accept its offer to acquire the social media platform. WSJ takes an inside look at tweets, texts and filings to see exactly how the battle unfolded. Artwork: Jordan Kranse

Mr. Joly said that if he wanted to act quickly, he resisted the temptation to quickly close stores or downsize, as some were proposing, or immediately impose his ideas on the organization without understanding the dynamics. existing. “My job was simple: show up, ask these questions, listen carefully, take notes, and do as I was told, because they had all the answers,” he said of the employees.

Mr. Musk sought comments from some Twitter users, including prominent ones. He asked author Stephen King if he wanted consider paying a price of $8 per month verify their account. Members of Mr. Musk’s team also asked Twitter users about a subscription feature.


What do you think of Musk’s management style? Join the conversation below.

Twitter announced on Saturday that it had started rolling out software updates to charge users $7.99 per month for its Twitter Blue subscription service, up from $4.99 currently. Subscribers have their accounts verified, a service that used to be free and offers a blue checkmark to notable accounts.

Mr. Musk has said in the past that he thinks CEOs screw up when they spend too much of their time in meetings, rather than focusing on refining a product. “Spend less time on finances, spend less time in boardrooms, less time on PowerPoint, and more time trying to make your product look as amazing as possible,” he said in an interview with the Newspaper in 2020.

During an executive’s first few days at a company, however, leaders can be overwhelmed, advisers say. Some say it’s important to focus on key strategic decisions, build a team, and then delegate.

At an investment forum in New York on Friday, Mr. Musk said that after buying Twitter he was now working 120 hours a week instead of his usual 70 or 80 hours. Yet he expected that to change eventually. “Once Twitter gets on the right track, it will be a lot easier to manage than SpaceX or Tesla,” Musk said.

Write to Chip Cutter at chip.cutter@wsj.com

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