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After Twitter's Executive Exodus, What Happens Next?

Twitter has a lot of vacancies to fill.

Vjeran Pavic, Asa Mathat, Jason Toff, Twitter

Twitter is hiring!

As Re/code reported on Sunday, a number of top Twitter executives, including its heads of product, engineering and media, are leaving the struggling social communications company. VP of Global Media Katie Stanton, VP of Product Kevin Weil and VP of Engineering Alex Roetter are all out, and their departures were confirmed in a tweet by CEO Jack Dorsey late Sunday night.

Jason Toff, general manager of Twitter’s standalone video app Vine, announced his departure to Google Sunday night. VP of Human Resources Brian “Skip” Schipper is also leaving.

There have been rumblings for weeks that a shake-up might be coming, but the move was still a bombshell given the seniority and number of execs taking off. It’s also a tough time for Twitter investors to stomach such news — Twitter’s stock is hovering near an all-time low and the company is set to report its growth numbers on its Q4 earnings call in two weeks. Investors remain worried about the possibility that Twitter has reached its peak when it comes to growing its user base.

That’s a bad combination, and this week’s departures don’t offer much solace, since executive turmoil has become one of Twitter’s most defining characteristics over the years. It has had a strikingly high level of turnover at its highest ranks, and Sunday’s mass exodus simply reinforces that image.

As one source put it to me: This is just Twitter being Twitter.

So what comes next?

For starters, Dorsey now faces the challenge of explaining to investors why the departure of four top executives is good news for a company struggling with user growth and a lousy stock price. The optimist’s take on Sunday’s news is that Dorsey now gets to bring in his own people for Twitter’s most important internal positions.

All four execs were appointed to their respective roles under former CEO Dick Costolo, and Dorsey, a product guru himself, may simply want his own team in place. It’s difficult to tell which employees left on their own and which were pushed out the door; it really depends who you ask.

What we do know, though, is that Dorsey hasn’t been happy with Twitter’s product team since returning to run the company last summer. He criticized Twitter’s product efforts on his first earnings call, and then quickly shuffled the product team to promote Jeff Seibert to head of all consumer products, a responsibility previously held by Weil. It was seen, said some inside Twitter, as a de facto demotion.

When Twitter issued company-wide layoffs in October, Dorsey said the company’s product and engineering teams would have “the most significant structural changes.” Insiders tell us that both Weil and Roetter started to see reduced roles at the company right around that time.

The key challenge now will be finding replacements for all of these execs, decisions that either haven’t been made yet or haven’t been announced internally. (In the meantime, COO Adam Bain and CTO Adam Messinger will divvy up the duties.)

But it might mean that Twitter is a hard sell right now to potential candidates. The stock stinks, and Dorsey is also busy running another public company, Square. Finding people willing to join Twitter right now, especially in high profile product roles, may be more difficult than expected.

Dorsey doesn’t have the luxury of taking time with these appointments, either. Twitter is under immense pressure to get things turned around. And spending six months looking for a new product head is out of the question.

One bit of good news for Twitter: Dorsey is expected to announce a new CMO on Monday, his first major hire since taking over as permanent CEO in October. Re/code reported late Sunday that it may be senior Amex marketing exec Leslie Berland. If so, that’s one less hole to fill.

It’s possible some of those departing will be replaced by insiders, and some of that may clear up later this week when Twitter’s executives and product leaders get together for a two-day leadership retreat in San Francisco. We’re told the get-together was intended to discuss things like the product roadmap and Twitter’s structure.

That retreat couldn’t come at a more important time. The retreat should give Dorsey a chance to motivate those leaders who are left and get everyone on the same page heading into what is shaping up to be a make-or-break year for the company.

Update: Rich Greenfield of BTIG Research created and tweeted this picture-tells-a-thousand-words image of the departures and their effect on the board:

Re/Code Decode: Twitter’s former CEO Dick Costolo on the company’s future with Jack Dorsey

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