Elon Musk’s response to a weekend Twitter post no doubt sent shockwaves throughout the company’s workforce — yet again.
Business man Nick Huber posted a recording of a 2015 Investor Talk series interview of billionaire activist investor Carl Icahn. Icahn tells The New York Times’ Andrew Ross Sorkin a story about his 1984 takeover of ACF Industries, a company that manufactured railroad cars.
When Icahn first looked at ACF, he noticed the stock price was cheap relative to all the assets the company owned. He also noticed they weren’t making any money.
Shortly after striking a deal with ACF, Icahn spent a day at the company’s headquarters in New York where employees occupied twelve floors of office space. At the end of the busy day, he said, “I go home, take a look at my yellow pad. I can’t figure out what the hell they do.”
Icahn went back the next day, which didn’t make things any clearer. “I’m not an idiot. I can’t figure out what the hell they do.”
He scheduled a meeting with the company’s COO, who was based in a separate location. Icahn chuckles as he tells Sorkin, “He was like a John Wayne character. He was a captain in the Marines, a tough guy. I was scared of him.”
“I want to know how many of those guys in New York you need to support your operation here cause I honestly can’t figure out what they do. He says, ‘I’ll tell you what you should do. … You don’t have the balls to do what I’ll tell you to do. … Get rid of all of ’em all tomorrow.’”
“I still was wondering, you know, maybe this guy Joe was a little crazy,” Icahn said. “How could I get rid of 12 floors of people?”
So he hired a group of consultants from Columbia University to find out what the people did. Three weeks and $250,000 later, they came back to Icahn and said, “We don’t know what they do either.”
“Got rid of the whole twelve floors,” Icahn said. “It was like out of a science fiction movie. They never existed.”
Musk watched the clip and replied, “Exactly.”
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 10, 2022
Yes, his remark was made in jest. But Musk didn’t become Twitter’s largest shareholder to sit on the sidelines.
He intends to make his mark on this company. After becoming a member of the social media platform’s board of directors, the self-described free-speech absolutist amended his SEC filing to reflect that his interest in Twitter was no longer “passive” but “active.”
This company has amassed far too much power. And frankly, after listening to Twitter’s arrogant new CEO, Parag Agrawal, my guess is his prattling on about how they determine who can and can’t be heard didn’t sit well with too many Americans.
In a 2018 interview with MIT Technology Review, Twitter’s current CEO Parag Agrawal, who was 33-years-old at the time and serving as chief technology officer, said the company should “focus less on thinking about free speech, but thinking about how the times have changed.”
“Where our role is particularly emphasized is who can be heard … And so increasingly our role is moving towards how we recommend content … how we direct people’s attention,” he added.
Shortly after Agrawal took over as CEO, this quote was unearthed. Musk reacted at the time with the following tweet.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 1, 2021
As for “firing twelve floors of people,” it might be too much to ask. That said, layoffs are typically one of the first orders of business following a shakeup like this.
Musk should start with Agrawal.
Either way, it will be fun to watch.