A Look Back at the Deranged Twitter Board Members Who Nearly Murdered the Company
April 26, 2022 (2mo ago)

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Elon Musk wasn’t bluffing. On Monday afternoon Musk pulled off a stunning coup that was hard to imagine even six weeks ago by buying out Twitter for a price tag of $45 billion.

Twitter’s board has accepted an offer from billionaire Elon Musk to buy the social media company and take it private, the company announced Monday.

The stock closed up 5.64% for the day after it was halted for the news.

“Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated,” Musk said in a statement included in the press release announcing the $44 billion deal. “I also want to make Twitter better than ever by enhancing the product with new features, making the algorithms open source to increase trust, defeating the spam bots, and authenticating all humans. Twitter has tremendous potential – I look forward to working with the company and the community of users to unlock it.”

The cash deal at $54.20 per share is valued at around $44 billion, according to the press release. [CNBC]

Not even two weeks ago, the financial world sneered at Musk’s buyout offer, treating it as a ludicrous longshot. But the world underestimated Musk. Even more importantly, they overestimated his opponents.

The battle between Elon Musk and the Twitter board of directors wasn’t even a contest. Twitter’s board was a feeble collection of tech has-beens, diversity hires, and boring corporate functionaries who didn’t even use the platform whose destiny they control. From this day forward, Twitter will be in far better hands.

First of all, for the first time in a long time, Twitter will finally be under the control of someone with a real stake in its long-term success. Excluding Jack Dorsey, the current board’s ownership totaled barely 0.1% of the company.

Twitter’s board consisted of people whose careers peaked a decade ago and who hung around the company thanks to inertia or boredom. And fittingly, for 2022, it had its own fair share of few diversity hires. Here’s a look back at the incompetents, ne’er-do-wells, and over-credentialed dweebs who nearly ran Twitter into the ground.

Parag Agrawal

Certainly, Elon Musk’s Twitter reign will mean major personnel changes at Twitter. Certainly, we hope he swiftly deletes the Trust and Safety Council, for starters. Twitter’s CEO of the past five months, Parag Agrawal, however, most definitely deserves the boot. Agrawal’s rise to the top job likely precipitated the current showdown with Musk, as he ushered in a new era of Twitter even more censorious than ever before. Virtually from the moment Agrawal settled in, Twitter’s moderation algorithms have been set loose, banning thousands of accounts whose “violations” were no more severe than following the “wrong” people. After Agrawal started, the company banned Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Dr. Robert Malone for Covid-19 “misinformation.” In March, it followed up with a ban on the Babylon Bee for naming Rachel Levine “Man of the Year”; that ban appears to be what finally pushed Musk over the edge.

Unlike the rest of the board, Parag is a pure creature of Twitter, having worked there ever since receiving his PhD. Musk should further Agrawal’s personal growth by sending him off on a new career.

Mimi Alemayehou

Mimi Alemayehou is Twitter’s mandatory diversity hire, brought to you by George Floyd. She was added in 2021 after certain news events you may have heard about. Alemayehou’s ownership stake in Twitter is virtually (or perhaps literally) non-existent. Quite plausibly, you own more of Twitter than she does.

Unlike many board members, though, Alemayehou is at least an avid Twitter user. She uses the platform to retweet posts about NFTs of black women’s hair.

Martha Lane Fox, Baroness Lane-Fox of Soho

Yes, Twitter actually has a member of the British House of Lords on its board.

Martha Lane Fox co-founded the travel booking website lastminute.com. The website was an icon of the original dot-com bubble in Britain. Lastminute.com debuted on the London stock market in March 2000 and promptly crashed with the rest of the market, losing about 90 percent of its value. The company survived, though, and Baroness Lane-Fox cashed out a few years later. Since then, Lane Fox has largely enjoyed life as a professional board-sitter. She currently sits on the boards of WeTransfer and Chanel (yes, the fashion brand), and previously served on the board of Britain’s Channel 4 as well.

Whatever her past business success, much like Mimi Alemayehou, Lane Fox’s appointment was a sop to those demanding more diversity. Even Lane Fox herself was explicit about it:

I’m incredibly excited to join Twitter on its journey to more deeply focus on inclusion and diversity at all levels including Board, and be a part of the amazing team that will help shape the platform’s future development of products, services and ideas.

Diversity on Boards is critical to sustaining and advancing performance and having worked in the tech sector since its early days, I find it astonishing that there’s already a profound gender imbalance – at every level – in an industry that didn’t even exist 30 years ago.

Having worked in the tech sector since its early days, it still surprises me that the original promises of the internet – to empower, be universal and uphold democracy – have somehow stalled. [Telegraph UK]

Robert Zoellick

Believe it or not, Twitter has a former Republican politician on its board! No worries, he’s exactly as useful as you’d expect such a Republican to be.

Robert Zoellick was U.S. Trade Representative and deputy secretary of state for George W. Bush, where he played a leading role in engineering China’s admission into the World Trade Organization, which cost America an estimated 3.7 million jobs (and hobbled us strategically) by accelerating deindustrialization in favor of China.

Later, Zoellick was Bush’s pick for president of the World Bank. He was also Mitt Romney’s favorite pick for Secretary of State had he won the 2012 election. After clearing helping clear the way for America’s economic hollowing-out, Zoellick’s last job before the Twitter board was as chair of the board of international advisors at Goldman Sachs.

Robert Zoellick has personal experience with stifling anti-speech attitudes in the U.S. In 2013 he withdrew as commencement speaker at Swarthmore College (his alma mater) due to protests over his role in the Iraq War. Despite that, Zoellick has had precisely nothing to say about free speech on Twitter, other than to praise the site’s general ban on political ads.

It’s not that Zoellick prefers keeping his views to himself. He says what he thinks all the time in major newspapers and magazines. He signed a 2016 open letter by former Republican officials vowing not to vote for Donald Trump. But with a seat on the board of the world’s premier speech platform, Zoellick prefers to stick to what he does best: trash populist Republicans and praise the growth of China.

Jack Dorsey

The founder himself, and the only other board member with a large stake of Twitter. Dorsey is probably the board’s best member, so naturally he was leaving at the end of May anyway. While Dorsey did vote in favor of the anti-Musk “poison pill” (or at least abstained from the vote), one person close to him told the Wall Street Journal he believes Dorsey was rooting for Musk.

It would make sense. As the person who created Twitter, Dorsey is one of the few people at it who understands its value as an open free speech platform. He fought for years to limit censorship on the site, and after Twitter ramped up censorship uncontrollably in 2020 he personally apologized for it, saying that banning the Hunter Biden laptop story was a total mistake. More interestingly, Dorsey has openly trashed the board as a dysfunctional force ruining the company.

Dorsey’s attitude is easy to understand. He created a transformative product, the world’s top speech platform, which provided an unprecedented means for ordinary and anonymous citizens to interact with the world’s most powerful figures on an equal footing. For years, thanks to pressure from investors, the board, the press, and his own employees, he has seen his original vision erode. Twitter devolved into a core part of the modern censorship regime. Finally, the forces of censorship drove Dorsey from the company he created. If Musk can restore Dorsey’s original vision, no doubt Jack will see it as a kind of victory.

Edit: Practically the moment Revolver’s post went live, Dorsey made a new tweet that seems to confirm our thinking.

Fei-Fei Li

Fei-Fei Li has a lifetime of accomplishment in the growing field of AI, but on the board of Twitter, her robotic subservience to woke shibboleths stands out. In 2017, Li teamed up with Melinda Gates to “liberate AI from ‘guys in hoodies,'” as Wired put it:

Artificial intelligence has a diversity problem. Too many of the people creating it share a similar background. To renowned researcher Fei-Fei Li, this paucity of viewpoints constitutes a crisis: “As an educator, as a woman, as a woman of color, as a mother, I’m increasingly worried,” she says. “AI is about to make the biggest changes to humanity, and we’re missing a whole generation of diverse technologists and leaders.” From the chair next to her, Melinda Gates affirms this, adding, “If we don’t get women and people of color at the table — real technologists doing the real work — we will bias systems. Trying to reverse that a decade or two from now will be so much more difficult, if not close to impossible.” [Wired]

An article Li co-authored for Nature regarding diversity in AI research is a buzzsaw of buzzwords:

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a driving force of the technological transformation that humanity is undergoing, but there is a diversity crisis in the field. We risk missing out on the perspectives that could shape the most profound solutions to the challenges we face going into the next decade if we continue on our current path.

As of 2019, fewer than 14% of AI research authors in the preprint server, arXiv, were women. Researchers in east Asia, Europe and North America authored 86% of papers published at AI conferences in 2018; researchers in regions including Latin America, the Caribbean, the Middle East, north Africa, sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia represented the remaining 14%. In the United States in 2020, 1.7% of technical roles at Facebook were held by Black people. AI-powered applications and products can inherit, or even amplify, centuries-old human biases, prejudices and blind spots.

We offer questions to institutions, publishers and researchers to spur discussion on improving inclusion in AI.

For academic institutions

• Who primarily benefits from funding, support and recognition within your institution?

• Do you report on the demographics of who is hired and promoted at your institution?

• Are you calling on faculty from underrepresented groups to do the brunt of your diversity work within individual departments?

[Nature]

Blah blah blah, and so on. Li gets the message across even more succinctly on the website of her program, AI4All, where she lists off the traits that make one worthy of attending her $4000 summer camp:

Who Should Apply?

We aim to serve the following high school students from groups historically excluded from AI, especially those at the intersection of two or more of these identities:

• Indigenous Peoples, Black, Hispanic or Latinx, Pacific Islander, and Southeast Asian
• Trans and non-binary; two-spirit; cis women and girls
• Lesbian, gay, bisexual, asexual, and queer
• Students with a demonstrated financial need (for example, high school students who qualify for free/reduced lunch or college students who receive financial aid)
• Future first-generation college student.

[AI4All]

No coding experience necessary.

Li was the doctoral advisor for Timnit Gebru, the Ethiopian “diversity in tech” activist who left Google in late 2020 while raving that the company and all of Big Tech was “institutionally racist.” Gebru insists that special interventions are needed in artificial intelligence models to correct “structural bias” against women and non-whites.

Bret Taylor

Bret Taylor and wife.

Bret Taylor has been a major figure at several Silicon Valley titans despite being just 43. After graduating from Stanford, Taylor landed a job at Google and launched Google Maps in 2005 at just 25 years of age. By thirty, he was the CTO of Facebook. He then left to found Google Docs competitor Quip, which he sold to Salesforce in 2016. Jack Dorsey reportedly hand-picked Taylor for the board in 2016, which may explain why he’s the only other clearly impressive person serving. But Taylor’s expertise is technical and product-focused.

Politically, Taylor is basically an NPC.

Currently, Taylor is also the co-CEO of Salesforce. He is very close with the company’s other CEO Marc Benioff. Back in 2016, many observers expected Salesforce to try and buy Twitter outright, until the company balked because of Twitter’s then-insufficient levels of censorship:

Troll-like behavior was also a concern for Salesforce (CRM) , according to CNBC host Jim Cramer, who said he spoke to the company’s CEO, Marc Benioff, about the problem.

“What’s happened is, a lot of the bidders are looking at people with lots of followers and seeing the hatred,” Cramer said on his show. “I know that the haters reduce the value of the company…I know that Salesforce was very concerned about this notion.”

New York Times tech editor Quentin Hardy also said he spoke to Benioff about the issue, and he confirmed that trolls were part of the reason Salesforce dropped its bid. [Fortune]

You do the math.

Patrick Pichette

Patrick Pichette is a corporate cog par excellence and probably the least exciting member of the board. Early in his career, Pichette worked at McKinsey and Company, and also held several other telecommunications jobs. From 2008 to 2015 he served as Chief Financial Officer of Google. In 2015, Pichette went viral with a retirement letter where he said that after 30 years of constant work, he wanted to travel the world with his wife. After two years, Pichette returned to the corporate world as a partner at venture capital firm Inovia. He joined Twitter a short time later, and spent a year and half as board chair.

Pichette holds very bland political opinions which he likes to express on Twitter.

Does Patrick run marathons? You bet he runs marathons.

David Rosenblatt

David Rosenblatt is the most boring member of the board. He has served on the board for 12 years, and maintained a conspicuously low profile the entire time. Before Twitter, Rosenblatt served as president and then CEO at DoubleClick, an online advertising firm that Google purchased in 2008. That year was peak Rosenblatt, and since then he has either stagnated or deliberately coasted, saying and doing little of note. Besides serving on the Twitter board, Rosenblatt is the CEO of the luxury goods e-commerce company 1stDibs, whose stock has fallen 75% since its IPO last summer, while Rosenblatt has mostly bragged about its NFT offerings.

Omid Kordestani

Perhaps the most blandly qualified person on this list, the Iranian-born Kordestani has been on the board since 2015. He served as Twitter’s executive chairman from 2015 to 2020. Kordestani was an electrical engineer at Hewlett-Packard when the personal computing revolution took off, and then played a senior role at Netscape in the early days of the Internet. He joined Google in 1999 as employee number 11, and was the man who made the fledgling startup profitable. Kordestani became a billionaire in the process.

Kordestani almost never uses Twitter. When he does tweet, it’s often about the coronavirus, though two years ago he did have the time to praise a certain U.S. entrepreneur:

Egon Durban

Egon Durban’s presence on the board is a product of financial maneuvering and nothing else. Durban is co-CEO of the private equity company Silver Lake. He ruthlessly clawed his way to the top of the company after joining as a young man more than twenty years ago. Silver Lake bought a large stake in Twitter, and so Egon got a board seat. Simple as. Durban literally only joined the Twitter platform after he joined the board. He has tweeted barely fifty times since. Durban is a pure dealmaker, who made his firm billions by buying and then flipping Skype a decade ago. Durban also worked with Elon Musk on his attempt to take Tesla private four years ago, and according to the New York Post, he was even in discussions with Musk about financing his Twitter takeover bid. Boring he may be, but it may come out later that Durban played a background role in getting the board to accept Musk’s bid rather than sabotage it.

And that’s the board. These are the eleven people who, until Monday, controlled the world’s most far-reaching and formidable speech platform. So, who would you rather have to lead your company? All eleven of them… or one transcendent billionaire? We know who we would pick.

Elon Musk has the vision, appetite for risk, and everything else that that the public normally associates with innovation and dramatic financial success. Elon Musk therefore is a rare breed. The figures like the 11 people named above are far more commonplace. In the modern economy, very little of success is about risk. Despite collecting $300,000 per year just to keep a seat warm, almost none of Twitter’s board otherwise had any skin in the Twitter game. For most, it wasn’t the only company whose board they sat on (some, like Pichette and the Baroness Lane Fox, collect board seats the way Hunter Biden collects bribes). So it came as no surprise that, over the past half-decade, Twitter has stagnated, becoming a progressively duller platform for groupthink, conventional wisdom, and censorship, while interesting ideas migrate elsewhere.

But look on the bright side: If Twitter had been more successful, not even Elon Musk would be rich enough to buy it. By keeping Twitter weak enough that a single ambitious billionaire could buy them out, Twitter’s board of directors accidentally did a tremendous service for free speech and for humanity.

The world deserves better of its speech platforms. And now, Elon Musk is poised to deliver it. Godspeed.

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