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Twitter founder @jack tweets resignation, has ‘bone-deep’ trust in his successor

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Toby Shapshak is publisher of Stuff (Stuff.co.za) and Scrolla.Africa.

The Twitterverse was abuzz last week when Jack Dorsey resigned as CEO of Twitter.

As befits the platform and the man who made the first tweet, he tweeted on Monday: “not sure anyone has heard but, I resigned from Twitter”.

It was a huge surprise, but one that saw Twitter’s stock bounce 11%. I never know whether that is a vote of confidence or derision, when the founding CEO resigns.

Dorsey’s bold move included a wholehearted endorsement of his successor, current chief technology officer (CTO) Parag Agrawal. At 37, he is the youngest CEO of a major tech firm, younger by a few months than Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. We can’t verify this since Twitter won’t release his exact date of birth for security reasons. Meanwhile, to verify my Twitter account I had to publicly post my birthday. Irony much?

Dorsey, who has been seen with a monk-like long grey beard, wrote an email to staff announcing his move, using phrases like “my trust in him as CEO is bone-deep” and “I’m deeply grateful for his skill, heart and soul”.

He obviously tweeted his email, in which he added: “I want you all to know this was my decision and I own it.”

The myth of the shaman Silicon Valley founder is not dead, it seems.

This is, after all, the man who, after a trip to Africa’s innovation hotspots in 2019, said he would spend six months a year on the continent – until Covid-19 hit.

He has been generous with his wealth. In 2016, he gave a third of his Twitter shares to its employees. This April, he pledged he’d give $1-billion to Covid-19 and other relief causes, which was about 28% of his $12-billion net worth, according to Forbes.

Less cynically, what I do like is how Dorsey calls out that it’s his time to step aside. That shows an awareness seldom seen in tech start-up founders.

“There’s a lot of talk about the importance of a company being ‘founder-led’. Ultimately I believe that’s severely limiting and a single point of failure,” he wrote. “I’ve worked hard to ensure this company can break away from its founding and founders.”

The 45-year-old Dorsey has had a long, curious history with the microblogging site he co-founded in 2006, including tweeting the first of billions of 140-character messages: “Just setting up my twttr.”

He was its CEO, but was forced out, after which he started fintech and payments firm Square. He returned as executive chair in 2011, when one-time comedian Dick Costolo was CEO. He became acting CEO and then CEO in 2015, while controversially holding the same role at Square – much to the chagrin of investors.

At least one notable commentator will be thrilled he’s left. Scott Galloway, the respected marketing professor who co-hosts the Pivot podcast, wrote a letter to Twitter’s chairman in 2019 that “Mr Dorsey demonstrates a lack of self-awareness, indifference and yogababble that have hamstrung stakeholder value”.

Not afraid to call a spade a spade, Galloway added: “The real culprit is directors who enable this reckless behaviour and render themselves flaccid fiduciaries for shareholders.”

After Galloway called Zuckerberg a “sociopath”, it’s obvious he has a clear and lucid insight into these tech titans.

Dorsey’s management style has not been without controversy. New York Magazine’s excellent Intelligencer wrote: “Unlike his counterpart Zuckerberg, Dorsey had a reputation as a hands-off CEO, seemingly more interested in cultivating his billionaire beatnik aura than evolving his platform, which counts some 400m users.

“While Twitter weighed the most consequential decision of Dorsey’s tenure – whether to boot president Donald Trump from the platform – its CEO was on a private island in French Polynesia. He walked five miles to work every day; said bitcoin is good for fighting climate change; took 10 days off a year to sit in silence; and considered moving to Africa.”

I’m not sure why the last is considered a managerial faux pas nor cause for derision.

Indian-born Agrawal, who was made CTO in 2017 after being at the company for a decade, is suddenly in the hot seat of arguably the grumpiest of social media companies.

Sure enough, on Monday a tweet of his from 2010 was unearthed about an infamous Islamophobic comment: “If they are not gonna make a distinction between Muslims and extremists, then why should I distinguish between white people and racists.”

Doesn’t have the same ring as an email he sent to staff: “We recently updated our strategy to hit ambitious goals, and I believe that strategy to be bold and right. But our critical challenge is how we work to execute against it and deliver results.”

He is an engineer after all.

Dorsey has given him another useful head start, by resigning as board chairman, giving the new CEO space.

As Dorsey wrote to Twitter staff: “It’s his time to lead.”

Good luck, Parag Agrawal. Do us proud. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.

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