Who could be Twitter’s CEO if Elon Musk steps down?

The following is a free sample from last week Command Line, my new weekly newsletter on the internal conversation of the tech industry:

Elon Musk has said he will find a new CEO for Twitter after users voted for him to leave. But who would, in his own words“foolish enough to take the job”?

It’s a question I’ve been asking in conversations for the past week. Based on my checks with people who would know, Musk doesn’t seem to be conducting a formal search just yet. And given his propensity to lie go back on his word, he may not try to find someone. Complicating matters is his saying that even after he finds a CEO, he will still lead the “software and server teams.” That’s basically the whole business.

For what it’s worth, I think Musk will eventually find a CEO not just because he told his Twitter investors he would, but because it’s the rational thing for him to do. Below are the names that have been floated to me as good candidates should Musk actually hand over the reins of Twitter. (I’m not counting the obvious members of Musk’s transition team who helped him in the early days of the takeover — namely, David Sacks, Jason Calacanis, and Sriram Krishnan – as I have read that they are not able to take the job if asked.)

Sheryl Sandberg, former COO of Meta

Advantages: This choice is perhaps the most obvious choice, especially if Musk does what he says and continues to lead engineering at Twitter after appointing a new CEO. Sandberg has the advertiser and connection representative Musk needs to begin repairing Twitter’s burgeoning company. And she’s a free agent after leaving Meta last year.

Cons: Musk is not a fan of Facebook and I don’t think they get along. Sandberg also seems happy to be focusing on her philanthropy and family life these days.

Emmett Shear, co-founder and CEO of Twitch

TED2019: Bigger than us

Advantages: While Shear wasn’t on my shortlist of possible names until I started asking around, the idea comes to me. As a co-founder and current head of Twitch, he successfully sold a social media company to a technology giant and has the experience Musk needs for his plan to make Twitter more of a video platform for creators. Plus, I’ve heard that the Twitch organization has been in a bit of a mess lately.

Cons: He has not run a publicly traded company, and Musk plans to bring Twitter back to the public market within a few years. And Twitch has failed to successfully expand beyond its main niche of gamer live streams.

Vanessa Pappas, TikTok COO

TikTok House Party at VidCon 2022

Advantages: She has the experience Musk needs, having first helped launch YouTube’s early creator program and more recently served as TikTok’s COO. I’ve also heard whispers that she may be planning an exit from TikTok/ByteDance sometime this year.

of: If Musk is primarily looking for someone the big advertisers know runs Twitter, she wouldn’t be the best choice since her focus is primarily on products and creators.

Jim Lanzone, CEO of Yahoo

The 2022 MAKERS Conference - Day One

Advantages: Lanzone’s background is more in media and advertising apart from his brief stint as CEO of Tinder. He now leads Yahoo, but could seize the right opportunity. He has the connections to the ad community and operational experience that Musk could use and the constitution to deal with Musk’s antics.

of: Unclear if he would want to work for Musk and take on Twitter’s headaches at this point.

Kevin Systrom, co-founder of Instagram

2019 New York Times Deals Book

Advantages: In terms of lineage and product chops, the co-founder and former CEO of Instagram is definitely a top choice. He’s been quiet since leaving Instagram/Facebook in 2018 following a clash with Mark Zuckerberg, though he showed his interest in the TikTok model of social media — untangling in-feed recommendations from someone’s social chart — on the podcast last year from Lex Fridman. That’s exactly what Musk wants Twitter to focus on as well.

Cons: He’s already worked for a stubborn founder/CEO, made a lot of money and probably doesn’t want to do it all again. Also doesn’t have the degree of clout with the ad community that Musk is likely looking for.

Honorable mentions came my way: Adam Bain, Susan Wojcicki, Sarah Friar, Kayvon Beykpour, and Kevin Weil. Am I missing someone? Let me know…

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