Elon Musk says he’ll step down as Twitter CEO. But he’s not going anywhere.


Elon Musk just announced that, in six weeks, he’s stepping down as the CEO of Twitter. But if you think that means the Elon-Twitter story is over, don’t hold your breath.

Musk announced on Thursday that he has chosen his replacement as the chief executive of Twitter and its parent company, X, and that she will be starting in about six weeks. This is the most concrete timeline he’s made about his succession plan since December of last year when he first confirmed that he would eventually step aside. But Musk will still be the sole owner of Twitter, and unless he sells the company — or a controlling share of it — the billionaire is still in control.

We don’t know yet who will replace Musk. Some media insiders have guessed it could be NBCUniversal advertising executive Linda Yaccarino, who has publicly defended Musk and recently interviewed him at a major advertising conference. Yaccarino did not respond to a request for comment. At this point, it’s still anyone’s guess.

Regardless of who replaces Musk, it’s not clear how much real power the new Twitter CEO could have. Even if he follows through with this plan and actually gives up his job as CEO — this is not at all guaranteed to happen until it happens — Musk’s ownership of Twitter means he can essentially hire or fire a new CEO as he pleases. Since Twitter is now a private company, Musk has virtually no outside accountability from an independent board of directors to question his decisions.

In a tweet announcing the leadership change, Musk said he “will transition to being exec chair & CTO, overseeing product, software & sysops.” These roles still represent a major part of the business’s operations. So while Musk could decide to give a new CEO control over some parts of Twitter’s day-to-day business, just how much control he gives up is entirely at his discretion.

In other words, Musk’s critics may be celebrating at the prospect of a new person in charge at Twitter, but it’s not guaranteed that anything will change, even with someone new at the top.

“He’s running product and technology for a 100% software company. What is the CEO in charge of: not paying the vendors?” Jason Goldman, Twitter’s former board member and first head of product, told Vox in a text.

In the past, Musk has been willing to give up some power at his other companies, including SpaceX and Tesla. Leaders like Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s COO, run the business day to day.

But it may be easier for Musk to accept his limitations when it comes to handling the day to day of launching rockets into space or building cars than with Twitter. Musk has described running Twitter, while a “painful experience,” to be a relatively easier challenge — and one he thinks he can master by eliminating bots, adding more paid content, and allowing a wider range of voices on the platform. And whether you agree with his “free speech extremist” values or not, it’s clear that Musk has strong opinions about how to run a social media company. Now, more than a year after his initial bid to buy Twitter, Musk has given no indication that that’s changed.

So if Musk isn’t ready to give up power at Twitter, why pick a new CEO?

One job responsibility Musk didn’t say he’d continue to lead is advertising — an area where he’s struggled and where a seasoned ad executive, like Yaccarino, could help. A new CEO could help Twitter’s image with major advertisers, many of whom have quit or cut back from the platform because of Musk’s perceived volatility.

A new CEO would put a new face to Twitter’s brand, and draw attention to someone besides Musk and his antics. But don’t expect Musk to quit Twitter anytime soon.


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