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Could a Triumvirate Bring Twitter Inc. Back to Glory?

By James Sullivan - Sep 3, 2015 at 12:08PM

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A power structure of three men at the top of Twitter might be exactly what the company needs to right itself after a difficult year and a half.

Source: Twitter.

A triumvirate is a power arrangement in which three people share power. The idea dates as far back as 59 BCE in ancient Rome, and it's been used, to varying degrees of success, throughout history since. For Twitter (TWTR 1.65%) shareholders, who have seen their shares get crushed over the past year and a half, a new potential triumvirate at the top of the company may be exactly what they need. 

Why not just one person?
In studying the history of the markets and public companies, I would argue that the most compelling power arrangement is to have one person in charge. This approach comes with the not-so-small caveat that this leader must be excellent, not only in running the day-to-day operations of the business, but also in formulating a long-term strategy and making shrewd capital-allocation decisions. The buck stopped with Henry Singleton at Teledyne and Jack Welch at General Electric. Amazon.com is the fiefdom of Jeff Bezos, and Elon Musk makes all the major decisions at Tesla Motors. These types of leaders are few and far between. If Twitter could snap up a generational CEO and give him the keys to the kingdom, that would be wonderful, but that situation remains unlikely.

No one would question that Berkshire Hathaway is Warren Buffett's company. Similarly, few would question that it would not be where it is today without the decades-long presence of Vice Chairman Charlie Munger. But Warren Buffetts don't grow on trees, and Twitter needs someone with a grasp of product first and foremost. It needs an engineer or programmer who has a ton of skin in the game and a legacy on the line. And maybe it needs three men, as some have suggested.

The arrangement closest to a Twitter triumvirate involves Facebook, where a visionary founder/CEO (Mark Zuckerberg) and a veteran COO (Sheryl Sandberg) have teamed up to build one of the century's largest, fastest-growing, and most important companies. A similar arrangement helped Google in its earlier years, when the company's founders (Larry Page and Sergey Brin) ceded day-to-day control to veteran executive Eric Schmidt. These arrangements allow for a focus on product, monetization, and the long-term direction of the company all at once.

Rumors had been floating that the next leadership team at Twitter could be made up of Jack Dorsey as CEO, Adam Bain as president, and Ev Williams as executive chairman.

Jack Dorsey: The founder
Jack Dorsey is one of the four founders of Twitter and served as its first CEO from 2006 until 2008. He's a computer programmer by training, and the main priority for the company is figuring out how to enhance the user experience to get more monthly active users, or MAUs, and then get those users to spend more time using the site. After seeing explosive growth on this metric from Q1 2010 to Q1 2015, 30 million to 302 million, growth has leveled off. No matter how good the sales team is, the stock price won't recover unless the company improves engagement. Dorsey appears to be a good bet among the available options to improve the user experience. He's currently serving as Twitter's interim CEO.

Ev Williams: The culture setter
Dorsey isn't leaving his post as CEO of Square while he runs Twitter. While this decision has drawn the ire of some detractors, I don't necessarily think it's a bad thing. Ev Williams, another co-founder, is a member of the board, and if he's in a triumvirate, that would allow him to help Dorsey while taking a broader look at the company and its future. As a former CEO of the company himself, he understands it intimately and will be able to assist the current CEO in ways that someone from the outside wouldn't be able to. 

Adam Bain: Currently in charge of monetization
Adam Bain is the current revenue boss at Twitter. I think he'd be an interesting choice for any triumvirate for a few reasons. First, sales are going to become of major import if the MAU growth issue can be rectified. Since Bain joined Twitter in 2010, revenue growth has been robust, rising from $28 million in 2010 to $1.78 billion on a trailing-12-month basis. While this is certainly not all he's doing, I think he is a star in the organization who's being primed for bigger and better things. There were recent rumblings that he was in the running for the CEO position.

People who know Bain seem to universally love him. A recent hashtag going around had employees and acquaintances writing funny quips about the executive. The tag? #AdamBainIsSoNice.

The best-case scenario?
Twitter shares are beaten down, and new management is the first step toward turning the ship around. A Dorsey/Williams/Bain triumvirate at the top could be the impetus. Investors can hope that Dorsey turns out to be the charismatic founder and CEO who returns to his company, a la a number of Silicon Valley chiefs throughout history, and imbues a sense of purpose and direction while helping the product be as excellent as it can. Williams and Bain could be critical to success. The Twitter platform is wonderful, and with some tweaks it can be one of the most important news and social-media vehicles on Earth.  Investors may get official word as soon as today about what's next for leadership at Twitter.

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Stocks Mentioned

Twitter, Inc. Stock Quote
Twitter, Inc.
TWTR
$40.17 (1.65%) $0.65
Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Stock Quote
Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
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$478,669.51 (2.10%) $9,864.47
Meta Platforms, Inc. Stock Quote
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Alphabet Inc. Stock Quote
Alphabet Inc.
GOOGL
$2,246.33 (4.20%) $90.48
Tesla, Inc. Stock Quote
Tesla, Inc.
TSLA
$759.63 (7.33%) $51.90
Amazon.com, Inc. Stock Quote
Amazon.com, Inc.
AMZN
$2,302.93 (3.66%) $81.38
Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Stock Quote
Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
BRK.B
$319.11 (2.12%) $6.61
General Electric Company Stock Quote
General Electric Company
GE
$78.76 (2.27%) $1.75
Alphabet Inc. Stock Quote
Alphabet Inc.
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