SAN FRANCISCO — For weeks, Elon Musk trashed Twitter in public. On Thursday, he acted like he finally owned the business.
During an hour-long morning Q&A with Twitter’s roughly 8,000 employees – the first time Mr Musk has spoken to them since striking a $44 billion deal to buy the social media company in April – the world’s richest man opened up about his plans for the service. In an effusive and sometimes rambling speech, he touched on growth, potential layoffs, issues like anonymity, Chinese apps and even the cosmic nature of Twitter.
“I want Twitter to contribute to a better and sustainable civilization where we better understand the nature of reality,” Musk said during the virtual meeting, which was livestreamed to Twitter employees and The New York Times. listened. He added that he hopes the service can help humanity “understand the nature of the universe better, as much as it is possible to understand it.”
The meeting, which Mr Musk attended from his mobile phone in what appeared to be a hotel room, suggested he was determined to seal the deal. In recent weeks, his intentions towards Twitter have been questioned. The billionaire, who also runs electric car maker Tesla and rocket company SpaceX, has repeatedly raised questions about fake Twitter accounts. This month, his lawyers said the company was refusing to provide him with information, an apparent pretext to potentially try to end or renegotiate the acquisition.
Mr. Musk, who offered $54.20 per share to buy Twitter, may have changed his mind after global markets fell. Shares of Twitter are now trading around $38. And Tesla shares, which are Mr. Musk’s main source of wealth, also fell.
In April, Mr. Musk agreed to buy Twitter without doing any due diligence. He is liable for a $1 billion severance package if he leaves. Under the terms of the agreement, Twitter also has the right to sue him to force the acquisition to complete, if its debt financing for the purchase remains intact.
Twitter insisted the deal remains on track and shared information with Mr Musk.
In his remarks on Thursday, Mr. Musk did not directly indicate whether he would complete the deal with Twitter. But he said he had big plans for the service.
In the conversation, moderated by Twitter chief marketing officer Leslie Berland, Mr Musk said he hoped to grow the service to be used by more than a billion people around the world. That would be almost four times the number of people using Twitter today. He added that he was active at Tesla and expected to be active on Twitter, and would be particularly involved with the social media service’s features.
“I expect them to listen to me on this,” Musk said.
Mr. Musk answered questions collected from Twitter employees on the internal Slack messaging system over the past week.
Some of the questions were about workplace culture, including remote work. This month, Mr. Musk sent notes to Tesla and SpaceX workers, saying he expected them to be in the office 40 hours a week. Twitter employees have largely worked remotely in the coronavirus pandemic.
At the meeting, Musk said he was open to Twitter employees working remotely, since developing software was different from showing up every day to build cars. But he noted that a broad lack of turnout at the office could be contributing to dwindling “esprit de corps” and said he hoped people would be willing to come to the office more in future.
Mr Musk avoided directly answering whether there would be any layoffs on Twitter under his watch, although his response was concerning.
“Right now, costs are exceeding revenues,” he said. “It’s not a good situation.”
Mr Musk, a longtime Twitter user with more than 98 million followers, has long said he believes the company’s potential is underutilized. He added that he hopes to rejuvenate the service out of the public procurement eye by privatizing the company and making significant changes to how Twitter works.
Inside Twitter, some employees have mixed feelings about Mr. Musk. Some said they were concerned about his Twitter habits and murky politics, and worried about how he said he would rather take a laissez-faire approach to controlling the platform. This raised questions, given the years Twitter has spent building its political department.
Others point to Mr. Musk’s reputation as an innovator. After former Twitter executives set but failed to meet lofty financial and user performance goals, some employees said Mr. Musk could reinvigorate the company.
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