Elon Musk, who met directly with Twitter Inc. employees for the first time since signing a $44 billion deal to acquire the social network, told staffers they shouldn’t worry about changes to their jobs once he takes over — as long as their work is “exceptional,” that is.
At an all-hands meeting Thursday, Musk prompted a flurry of snarky, frustrated and concerned commentary on internal message boards with his remarks on several topics, including potential plans for layoffs and his approach to remote work. In both instances, Musk said that employees would be safe from job cuts and can continue to work remotely if they are creating “exceptional work.”
“The bias definitely needs to be strongly towards working in person, but if somebody is exceptional, then remote work can be OK,” said Musk, according to people who attended the meeting. The billionaire, who is also chief executive officer of Tesla Inc., recently demanded that many employees at the electric-car maker return to the office, sparking consternation among Twitter employees who were given the freedom to work from anywhere in 2020 as the pandemic shut down offices around the world.
“If someone is excellent at what they do but can only work remotely, to then fire them even though they are doing excellent work would be insane,” Musk added. “So I’m definitely not in favor of things that are, like, mad. I’m in favor of things that build the business and make it better.”
When Musk was asked about possible job cuts at Twitter, he didn’t confirm a headcount reduction was coming, but hinted that the San Francisco-based company needs to better manage expenses. Twitter has already implemented a number of cost reductions, including canceling its scheduled all-company retreat at Disneyland in early 2023.
“The company does need to get healthy. Right now the costs exceed the revenue so that’s not a great situation to be in,” he said. “Anyone who is like obviously a significant contributor should have nothing to worry about,” he added, noting that he won’t take “actions which are destructive to the health of the company.”
Musk’s appearance at the meeting did little to appease those concerned that the deal will lead to major upheaval at the company. An internal Slack channel devoted to discussions about Musk’s comments was mostly full of employees who were upset with his answers, with some openly mocking the would-be boss.
Employees took particular issue with Musk’s focus on workers who are “exceptional,” according to three people familiar with the interactions, and some of the comments joked about Musk providing special treatment to these employees.
“Friendly reminder that you can show up 10 minutes late to a meeting that was announced to the world and still be exceptional,” one employee wrote on Slack, referring sarcastically to Musk’s own tardiness to the all-hands on Thursday.
A few comments were supportive of Musk. One staffer posted that others were choosing to interpret Musk’s comments in the “least generous way possible,” though Musk supporters were in the minority, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing internal business.
Musk joined the video call in a white button-down shirt and appeared to be dialing in from his phone. He rambled throughout parts of the call — at one point late in the discussion, he brought up aliens and the “meaning of life,” adding, “I have seen no actual evidence for aliens.”
Still, the conversation started with Musk on message for his audience, expressing a “love” for Twitter’s service. The social network is a great way to get his thoughts out to the public, he said, and pointed out that his tweets alone can generate full news stories. “Some people use their hair to express themselves. I use Twitter,” he said.
What Musk didn’t bring up was a clear, forceful intention to complete the deal. Some at the company took Musk’s appearance as a positive sign that he intends to fulfill his $54.20 per-share agreement, but Musk himself has cautioned in recent weeks that he might walk away from the accord if Twitter doesn’t do more to prove that its user base is predominantly real people and not bots.
Musk mentioned bot and spam accounts on the service at the meeting Thursday, saying it was important for there to be “transparency” on Twitter to build trust with users. He suggested that Twitter could start to authenticate a user’s identity through Twitter Blue, the company’s current subscription service.
The conversation was moderated by Twitter Chief Marketing Officer Leslie Berland, who summarized some employee questions that were submitted ahead of time. CEO Parag Agrawal introduced Musk, although he and other top executives like finance chief Ned Segal didn’t speak during the interview, which lasted about 45 minutes, according to attendees.
While there’s no way to know which executives might leave once Musk takes over, the Tesla CEO has made it clear he isn’t pleased with Twitter’s current management. Presumably that includes Agrawal, as well as Twitter’s top lawyer, Vijaya Gadde, whom Musk has criticized publicly for her role in enforcing the company’s policies around hate speech and misinformation.
While Twitter’s stock fluctuated throughout the meeting, and traded higher for a time even as the broader market fell, it ended the New York session down 1.7 percent at $37.36, more than 30 percent below the per-share price Musk has agreed to pay.