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Handicapping the Winners and Losers in the Twitter Shakeup

The latest episode of the Internet's most entertaining telenovela is here!


While companies are not games, it’s not hard to want to handicap the winners and losers in any major management shift or executive shakeout.

So, let’s dispense with the niceties and get down to the brass tacks of what happened in the San Francisco social communications company’s latest (how shall I put this nicely?) telenovela, Internet edition. I use that term because — perhaps more than any other well-known digital company, save the persistent antics over at Yahoo — Twitter has had a very long record in its very short history of many little earthquakes shaking its management structure.

“It’s not really a company,” Re/code staffer Liz Gannes jokingly texted me yesterday. “More like an angry tribe.”

And a very restless tribe it was this week at Twitter, as first reported by Re/code, with the departures of a pair of high-profile execs: COO Ali Rowghani and North American media head Chloe Sladden.

I had written a story Wednesday night that possible changes in both their statuses was forthcoming and by yesterday morning Rowghani was out. By end of the day, so was Sladden.

The pair, who have known each other since college, were obviously the big losers in the debacle, departing from powerful jobs at the company under what were clearly tense circumstances.

In Rowghani’s case, it was the stripping of his responsibilities at the behest of CEO Dick Costolo, including losing purview over the key product unit. He had been in charge of innovating Twitter’s offering and also goosing user growth, both of which he apparently had not done well enough. Those duties were shifted after the hiring of new product head Daniel Graf, who was recruited from Google and who now reports to Costolo directly.

That left Rowghani with just global business development, international and its well-known North American media unit, headed by Chloe Sladden. Sladden’s much-expected leave-taking came in the form of a 12-tweet miniseries of thoughts about her tenure. That’s typical for Sladden, as Re/code staffer Peter quite smartly pointed out to me in an email:

“Media peeps outside the company *love* Chloe. To many of them, this will be a bigger deal than Ali, b/c they dealt with her more and she had higher profile for a long time.”

Yes, indeed, which is why Sladden — who has only recently returned from maternity leave — will be just fine and dandy, with the highest likelihood of nabbing another big job at the intersection of media and digital.

So too Rowghani, who was CFO of Pixar for eight years before coming to Twitter. He has reportedly been mulling a number of CEO and other high-profile jobs outside of the company since his recent tensions began at Twitter. Having been praised for helping shepherd a successful IPO and also with deep strategic strengths, it is likely Rowghani will get scooped up quickly if he chooses.

(Welcome to Silicon Valley, where you can lose a big job in a messy way and get a better one in a flash.)

Other losers are not clear yet, but they are likely to be those shoved out in the “streamlining” now being led by HR head Brian Schipper. He has been charged by Costolo to find a new structure to better fix Twitter’s growth issue.

So, who’s both a winner and loser? Probably Costolo, most of all.

In removing Rowghani, he places the responsibility for solving the issues Wall Street has with Twitter most directly on his own shoulders. Thus, he needs to get the exec shuffle right this time. There have been a lot of hires that have not worked out under his tenure, so I would expect there is going to be great scrutiny on who he relies on now and whom he brings in from outside (yes, look for that soon, too).

Also someone who probably needs to tread more carefully is CFO Mike Gupta, who has to better convince Wall Street investors that the Twitter story is a good one and to move the narrative off of that of a moribund growth story. The former investment banker was a top finance exec at Yahoo and then Zynga before he arrived at Twitter in late 2012. It will be up to Gupta to depict what is going on at Twitter more smoothly and to render numbers that are less subject to question by analysts and the media.

There are a lot of winners in the changes, of course. On the top of that list, I would squarely place Twitter’s president of global revenue, Adam Bain. Enormously well liked both internally and externally, the boyish former Fox Interactive Media exec has presided over strong and promising growth in advertising sales. And he’s likely to get Rowghani’s business development org, which is headed by Jana Messerschmidt. (Another ship who rises with Bain is Kevin Weil, who runs revenue products.)

Also on the upside is communications and marketing head Gabriel Stricker. The former Google exec could get the media unit in his organization, which would be a big win for him (plus celebs aplenty!).

Another likely winner: International head Katie Jacobs Stanton, the former Google and Yahoo exec who is responsible for growing Twitter’s audience outside the United States. She could get all of media — including North America — under her umbrella, a unit that could also see some shaking up soon.

Alex Roetter, the newly appointed head of engineering, was already on the rise. And product head Graf, too, will wield a lot of power going forward (along with enduring a lot of pressure). Both have recently purgedoops — rejiggered their units.

As to the real winner after all these dramatic moves: Twitter’s typically lackluster stock, which rose just over 3.5 percent yesterday after the news of Rowghani’s departure was confirmed by the company and also by Rowghani in a tweet.

Of course, it will take more than that to keep such a rally going — which is to say, fixing what needs fixing.

For that, tune in to the next likely-to-be-dramatic episode of how the Twitter turns.

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