Jack Dorsey has stepped down as CEO of Twitter and passed the baton to the relatively unknown executive Parag Agrawal.
Agrawal, who has been with the company for 10 years – most recently as chief technology officer – has emerged from behind the scenes to take over one of Silicon Valley’s highest-profile and politically volatile jobs. But who is he, and what can we expect for Twitter under his leadership?
A 37-year-old immigrant from India, Agrawal comes from outside the ranks of celebrity CEOs, which include the man he’s replacing as well as Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Tesla’s Elon Musk. But his lack of name recognition, coupled with a solid technical background, appears to be what some of Twitter’s biggest backers were looking for in the company’s next chapter.
Agrawal is a “‘safe’ pick who should be looked upon as favorably by investors”, wrote the CFRA Research analyst Angelo Zino, who noted that the Twitter shareholder Elliott Management had pressured Dorsey to step down.
That means we can expect more of the same under him in terms of policy and company direction, experts say – including plans to continue Twitter’s recent strategy to double its annual revenue by 2023 and focus on its long-term ambition to rebuild how social media companies operate.
“We recently updated our strategy to hit ambitious goals, and I believe that strategy to be bold and right,” Agrawal said in an email to employees. “But our critical challenge is how we work to execute against it and deliver results.”
The company currently faces a host of challenges, including slow growth in its user base as competitors like TikTok and Instagram lure away younger demographics, as well as continuing struggles with misinformation and hate speech.
Agrawal is expected largely to pick up where Dorsey left off, continuing to fight for users being lured away by competitors like TikTok and Instagram, said Jill Wilson, the chief marketing officer for Esquire Digital.
“Agrawal has his work cut out for him in terms of keeping Twitter relevant and getting the everyday user on board, and monetizing the platform in general,” she said.
Dorsey, who co-founded Twitter in 2006, steered the company through a high-profile hack and the controversial banning of Donald Trump, who tested the boundaries of the platform’s enforcement against hate speech and misinformation.
Those problems have continued beyond the Trump presidency, and Agrawal is stepping into a role in the eye of the storm over moderation policies on hate speech and misinformation, for which Dorsey has faced criticism in recent years.
“The new CEO will need to work out how to stop his platform being a machine that is routinely and perpetually hijacked to distort the news agenda, produce fake popularity and influence, and provide a warped lens on the world,” said Imran Ahmed, the CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate.
Dorsey had simultaneously been serving as CEO of the social media platform and as CEO of his payments processing company Square but will now focus primarily on Square as well as other pursuits such as philanthropy, Reuters reports.
In an email to employees on Monday, Dorsey said he chose to step down due to the strength of Agrawal’s leadership, the naming of the Salesforce chief operating officer, Bret Taylor, as the new chairman of the board and his confidence in the “ambition and potential” of Twitter’s employees.
“I’m really sad ... yet really happy,” he wrote. “There aren’t many companies that get to this level,” adding that his move to step down “was my decision and I own it”.
Over the past year, Twitter has fought to end years-long criticism that it has been slow to introduce new features for its 211 million daily users and was losing ground to social media rivals.
Under Dorsey’s leadership, Twitter acquired the email newsletter service Revue and launched Spaces, a feature that lets users host or listen to live audio conversations.
However, shares in the company have slumped in recent months, adding pressure on Dorsey to end his unusual arrangement of being CEO of two companies.
Agrawal has already had a fast introduction to life as CEO of a central platform for political speech.
Following the announcement on Monday, conservatives quickly unearthed a tweet he sent in 2010 that read: “If they are not gonna make a distinction between muslims and extremists, then why should I distinguish between white people and racists.”
As some Twitter users pointed out, the 11-year-old tweet was quoting a segment on The Daily Show, which was referencing the firing of Juan Williams, who made a comment about being nervous about Muslims on an airplane.
Agencies contributed to this report