Why many Silicon Valley executives regard the owner of Twitter as a hero because of his brutal and uncompromising style. A large number of Elon Musk’s tip top fans respect him for administering Twitter with an iron clench hand. To most people outside of Silicon Valley, Elon Musk’s ownership of Twitter has been an absolute disaster, which may seem obvious.
Since taking over, Mr. Musk has fired more than half of Twitter’s employees, spooked many of the company’s major advertisers, implemented (and then abandoned) a series of ill-advised changes to its verification program, enraged regulators and politicians with erratic and offensive tweets, declared a brief war on Apple, authorized a bizarre “Twitter Files” expose, stopped paying rent on Twitter’s offices, and falsely accused the company’s former head of trust He has lost billions of dollars in personal wealth, and he was booed at a Dave Chappelle show.
He is not doing well by almost any measure. Nevertheless, one group is still strongly in Mr. Musk’s favor: Bosses.
Even though the billionaire has struggled with Twitter, many tech executives, founders, and investors have expressed their admiration for Mr. Musk in recent weeks.
At a New York Times DealBook conference late last month, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings praised Mr. Musk, calling him “the bravest, most creative person on the planet.”
Private equity investor Gavin Baker recently asserted that many venture-funded CEOs were “inspired by Elon.”
Additionally, a number of partners at the influential venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz have expressed similar admiration for Mr. Musk’s management style in tweets.
Class solidarity or blatant financial self-interest probably underlie some of the elite cheerleading. Andreessen Horowitz, for instance, put $400 million in Mr. Musk’s Twitter takeover.) As I’ve called around to C-suite executives and influential investors in Silicon Valley over the past few weeks, I’ve been surprised by how many are rooting for Mr. Musk — even if they won’t admit it publicly. And some of it may reflect leftover good will from Mr. Musk’s successes at Tesla and SpaceX.
Despite losing thousands of employees, Twitter has not collapsed or gone offline, as some critics predicted, according to Mr. Musk’s supporters. They believe he will be rewarded for cutting costs and enforcing the law, and they see his harsh management style as a necessary correction.
Roy Bahat, a venture capitalist with Bloomberg Beta, stated, “He actually does the things many C.E.O.s wish they could say.”
Mr. Bahat, who has criticized some of Mr. Musk’s actions, described his time on Twitter as a “living natural experiment.” This was a contentious but instructive look at what other executives might be able to get away with if they tried.
He stated, “He is giving people a lot more knowledge of what is possible.”
Tech aristocrats don’t just back Mr. Musk because they like him personally or agree with his anti-woke political agenda. However, some do.)
Instead, they see him as the model for a new worldview that they hope spreads to more people in Silicon Valley.
The essayist John Ganz has called this perspective “bossism” — a conviction that individuals who fabricate and run significant tech organizations have surrendered a lot of capacity to the entitled, sluggish, excessively woke individuals who work for themselves and need to begin ripping at it back.
According to Mr. Ganz’s narrative, the most prominent proponents of bossism in Silicon Valley—including Mr. Musk and the financiers Marc Andreessen and Peter Thiel—are seizing an opportunity to sharply shift the culture of the tech industry to the right, bringing leftist workers and worker-sympathizers down a peg and reestablishing themselves and their fellow bosses at the top of the hierarchy.
Things are indeed viewed in such stark, politicized terms by some Musk supporters. For instance, crypto entrepreneur and author Antonio Garca Martnez has described Mr. Musk’s acquisition of Twitter as “a revolt by entrepreneurial capital” against the “ESG grifters” and “Skittles-hair people” who make up the ranks at companies like Twitter.
Yet, while some tech C.E.O.s could fault a sleeper cell of orientation reads up majors for their concerns, a considerable lot of Mr. Musk’s tip top fans stick to a more direct, business college sort of bossism. They admire him for ruling Twitter with an iron fist and making moves that tech executives have resisted out of fear of alienating employees, such as cutting jobs, removing perks, punishing internal dissidents, resisting diversity and inclusion efforts, and reprimanding employees for going back to work.
These bossists think that many C.E.O.s have had to make unreasonable concessions over the past few years due to the booming tech industry and a lack of talent. They provided lavish meals and kombucha on tap as perks for employees. They agreed to use Slack and other workplace chat apps, which flattened office hierarchies and gave junior employees a way to directly challenge leadership. D.E.I. workshops, flexible remote work policies, and company wellness days were all concessions they made in order to satisfy workers and keep them from leaving for a competitor.
Elon Musk then showed up at Twitter and refused to do anything. Mr. Musk fired many of Twitter’s employees and challenged the remaining ones to resign, requiring them to certify that they were an “extremely hard core” in order to keep their jobs. He did not attempt to gain favor with Twitter employees. He had previously carried out some of this at other companies. At Twitter, on the other hand, he did everything out in the open, using his Twitter account as a stick to keep employees on task.
One of Twitter’s core values was “communicate fearlessly to build trust,” and the company’s former leaders were steeped in the conciliatory style of boom-time management. However, Mr. Musk replaced that with a culture of absolute fidelity. He publicly humiliated Twitter employees and fired anyone who dared to criticize him. He mocked an old “Stay Woke” T-shirt found in a Twitter closet and disbanded the company’s employee resource groups, which included groups for Black, L.G.B.T.Q., and female employees. He was particularly dismissive of the company’s diversity and inclusion efforts.
Mr. Musk’s actions appeared to many to be an illustration of how not to run a business. However, they were a lightning bolt for some Silicon Valley elites—a long-awaited response to the question, “What if we just treated workers… worse?”
Although not all of Mr. Musk’s actions are supported by management, many believe he is correct in the big picture. Tech organizations are swollen and ineffective. Departments of human resources have gone too far. Workers ought to put their activism to one side and concentrate on their work.
These views have been expressed by tech leaders before by Mr. Musk. In recent years, Coinbase, Kraken, and Basecamp have all attempted to restrict employee activism, with varying degrees of success. In more recent times, Meta prohibited employees from discussing “disruptive” issues like gun rights and abortion in workplace forums.)
The background has changed since then. The tech industry’s profits have decreased for the first time in nearly two decades as a result of economic pressures, and businesses that previously spared no expense to ensure the well-being of their workforce are now trimming their sails and implementing layoffs. Workers who could have credibly threatened to leave their jobs for ones with better pay a year ago are now hanging on for dear life, and executives whose stock prices are falling are declaring themselves “wartime C.E.O.s.”
All of this has made bosses more powerful than employees.
Margaret O’Mara, a history professor at the University of Washington who has written about Silicon Valley’s labor culture, said, “When a job market loosens, the attention that management places on employee desires — whether workplace perks or better D.E.I. — can wane, simply because they have less need to offer those things to recruit or retain.”
To put it another way, Mr. Musk has chosen the appropriate moment to initiate a management revolution. The issue at hand is: How many superiors will accompany him into the blaze?