Elon Musk is the head of 5 companies that need strong leadership. Instead, he's starting Twitter wars.
- Elon Musk has made headlines for his recent tweets, which include posts about guns and Apple.
- Critics say the Twitter CEO's use of the platform could further endanger the struggling company.
In business, optics matter — especially when you're a new CEO.
That's a reality Elon Musk might benefit from understanding, especially on the heels of his aggressive takeover of Twitter and the layoffs he ordered, the growing competition facing Tesla, and setbacks at Boring Co., Musk's venture created to dig traffic-busting tunnels. There's also been discord at SpaceX, the rocket company Musk operates.
The Swiss Army knife of CEOs has said how limited his time is since taking the helm at Twitter. "I have too much work on my plate that is for sure," Musk said in a video conference on the sidelines of the G20 summit in November.
Yet the top of the org chart at five companies still finds time to tweet about how he keeps two guns by his bedside, the flavors of Thanksgiving food, and that Apple CEO Tim Cook "hates" free speech. Musk even tweeted an image featuring Pepe the frog, an all-purpose hate meme and symbol of antisemitism.
Even busy CEOs need downtime, but Musk's musings in 280 characters further risk Twitter's future, putting employees and advertisers on edge. Despite his cult following, Musk is still answerable to lenders, advertisers, and even employees. Many workers and shareholders are demanding business leaders speak out on social issues, not push memes. If Musk wants to rekindle morale among those remaining Twitter employees who agree with his "hardcore" approach — and repair advertiser relations at a company with paltry ad revenue — he might be wise to take a break from some of the tweeting.
But don't bet on it.
Nick Bilton, the author of "Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal," told Vox that Musk's social-media celebrity is "one thousand percent" hurting his ability to run Twitter.
"His biggest problem right now is not necessarily what he's doing to the company," Bilton said. "His personal biggest problem is his Twitter account."
Compare Musk's recent tweets and actions with those of other top CEOs: Disney's Bob Iger is back in the top job after several years away, and he's deep in town-hall meetings and talking about company values on calls. Apple's Tim Cook is expressing gratitude for his employees and grappling with iPhone shortages, and he recently tweeted support for this month's Transgender Day of Remembrance. Mary Barra, who runs General Motors, is sharing her insights on electric vehicles as she seeks to retool the 114-year-old company by shifting away from gas-powered cars and trucks.
In an article titled "Good Luck Getting Elon Musk to Stop Tweeting," the Wired journalist Steven Levy wrote that Musk's apparent "addiction" to Twitter, which includes insulting people on the platform, endangers his own turnaround plan for the company.
"Let's put aside whether or not Musk is doing a good job at fixing Twitter," Levy wrote. "What possible justification could there be to incite powerful people with stupid drive-by insults? It's not like Musk is making salient points, exposing flawed reasoning, or providing valid information. He's just wisecracking unwisely, with total disregard for the consequences."
In a story for New York Magazine, Kevin Dugan wrote that Musk is unlikely to change his ways anytime soon.
"Spend enough time getting sucked into the micro-dramas of Twitter and someone will eventually tell you to go touch grass — log off," Dugan wrote after Musk took Twitter private. "It's now been a week since Elon Musk has taken over Twitter, and one thing that's clear about his reign is that he will never, ever touch grass."
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