Elon Musk, the human dynamo who never sleeps, may be set to step aside from his two primary roles — CEO of Tesla and Twitter — according to news reports. Let’s start with Twitter, which has been in chaos since Musk bought the company last fall.
Excited to announce that I’ve a new CEO for X/Twitter. She will be starting in ~6 weeks!
My role will transition to being exec chair & CTO, overseeing product, software & sysops.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 11, 2023
Hours after that tweet, the Wall Street Journal claimed the new CEO will be NBCUniversal advertising executive Linda Yaccarino, who is now “is in talks” with Musk that could lead to her taking over the CEO role at Twitter. Yaccarino is known for being an “industry advocate for finding better ways to measure the effectiveness of advertising,” according to the Wall Street Journal. Twitter didn’t respond to a request for comment, but Yaccarino and Musk are apparently on good terms.
The two have appeared together at ad industry events, and Yaccarino has spoken favorably of Musk, Engadget reports. NBCU also has significant partnerships with Twitter, recently renewing its partnership to host video from the 2024 Olympics on Twitter. Trade journal AdAge recently pointed out that Yaccarino tweeted at Musk that Twitter should bring back Periscope, calling it “an idea for our new partnership.”
It’s not clear how much practical control Musk will have following the leadership shuffle, Engadget says. “While he will no longer be CEO, he will still have significant influence over Twitter’s technology. And given that Musk played a role in finding a replacement, the new hire might not be quick to change strategy. Don’t be shocked if Twitter maintains the Musk-era status quo, at least for a while.”
The Washington Post reports that Yaccarino is the chair of global advertising and partnerships at NBCUniversal, where she oversees 2,000 workers on a team that has generated more than $100 billion in ad sales. Her team has forged partnerships with Apple News, BuzzFeed, Snapchat and Twitter, among others.
Some Musk fans have zeroed in on Yaccarino’s work with the World Economic Forum, a group that Musk has criticized. They see this as a sign that she will return Twitter to its old ways or tamp down Musk’s bizarre free speech initiatives. Musk said that the Twitter’s “commitment to open source transparency and accepting a wide range of viewpoints remains unchanged.”
At the WEF, which promotes globalization and hosts the annual Davos forum, Yaccarino serves as chair of the Taskforce on the Future of Work and sits on a committee for media, entertainment, and culture, according to her LinkedIn profile.
The Washington Post adds that Musk and Yaccarino appeared onstage together in Miami Beach last month for a talk called “Twitter 2.0: From Conversations to Partnerships,” billed as an “intimate conversation” about Twitter’s role in culture and its future for marketers. NBCUniversal also recently expanded its partnership with Twitter for the 2024 Paris Olympics, a move Yaccarino alluded to in a tweet to Musk last week.
Musk And Tesla
There are rumors swirling that Tesla CFO Zach Kirkhorn may be in line to take over as CEO of Tesla. The Wall Street Journal reports that the Tesla board of directors has been considering Kirkhorn ever since a trial began last year that challenges Musk’s compensation package as being “beyond the bounds of reasonable judgment.” During the trial, Tesla board member James Murdoch said that Musk had identified a potential successor in the months leading up to the trial, but did not specify who Musk had suggested.
The Wall Street Journal compared Musk’s relationship with Kirkhorn to that between Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and his successor, Tim Cook. Both Jobs and Musk were willing to take “risky bets” in order to build their companies, while Cook and Kirkhorn appear to take a more cautious approach that has helped keep the companies in balance.
Tesla staff who have worked with Kirkhorn told the Wall Street Journal that he is adept at responding to Musk’s requests and taking on the role as a mediator between the billionaire and other workers. In the past, former executives have said Musk can be a difficult person to work for. He is known to have anger management issues and on occasion has fired employees during fits of rage. Musk has denied those reports, which he calls “false.” He claims he gives “clear and frank” feedback to employees.
Former SpaceX executive Jim Cantrell previously told Insider that Musk can be “vicious” when his expectations aren’t met. Tesla co-founder JB Straubel told Insider that Kirkhorn works well with Musk because he is careful to “share the bad news even louder and faster than the good news.” Straubel was recently appointed to the Tesla board of directors and was the company’s CTO for several years.
Tesla co-founder Martin Eberhard previously told Insider that his relationship with Musk went sour when he became the face of Tesla in its early days, adding that Musk would call him and “scream” at him when he wasn’t mentioned in a news article about the company. That apparently is what Elon considers “clear and frank feedback.”
Kirkhorn has worked at Tesla for more than ten years. He started with the company as a senior analyst in 2010 and succeeded former CFO Deepak Ahuja in 2019. Prior to joining Tesla, Kirkhorn worked as an analyst at McKinsey & Company after serving as an intern at Microsoft.
Kirkhorn is not the only Tesla executive who is rumored to be a potential successor to Musk. Earlier this year, several news outlets speculated that Tom Zhu, the head of its China operations, could be Musk’s successor after he took over leadership of Tesla’s US assembly plants and sales in both North America and Europe in January. Zhu, like Kirkhorn, goes about his business quietly and stays far away from the limelight.
Around the fire pit at CleanTechnica intergalactic headquarters, which is fueled by table scraps from the commissary, some staff members have routinely speculated that Herbert Diess, the former CEO of Volkswagen Group, would make a dandy chief executive for Tesla — but apparently our hopes in that regard are not to be. (Note: others on staff don’t see Diess as a fit at all or qualified for the job of overseeing the software aspects of the company.)
There is no confirmation that Musk will step aside as CEO of Tesla. Musk’s idea of “clear and frank feedback” to media inquiries these days is an emoji of a smiling pile of excrement — very classy, Elon. But we have to say, here at the office, the reaction to the rumor has been a collective sigh of relief.
The Silicon Valley management style of moving fast and breaking things may have served the company well in its formative stages, but it seems long past time for professional business managers to take over the controls and guide the company into the future.
We have no doubt that Elon will remain a constant presence around Tesla headquarters and a powerful influence over how the company moves forward from here. We can only wonder what new challenges Musk will embrace. He clearly thrives on situations that require him to exert his considerable skills at 3:00 a.m. and sleep in a bedroll under his desk.
The only prediction I feel comfortable making is that the value of Tesla shares will show a marked increase if he decides to step aside. The world has only so much capacity to absorb an unending torrent of “clear and frank feedback.”
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Source: Clean Technica