SAN FRANCISCO — For weeks, Elon Musk has publicly trashed Twitter. On Thursday, he pretended to finally own the company.
During a one-hour morning question-and-answer session with Twitter’s roughly 8,000 employees — the first time Mr. Musk has spoken to them since he struck a $44 billion deal in April to buy the social media company — he opened The world’s richest man opens his doors about his plans for the service. In a lavish and at times disjointed speech, he discussed growth, potential layoffs, issues like anonymity, Chinese apps, and even the cosmic nature of Twitter.
“I want Twitter to contribute to a better, long-lasting civilization in which we better understand the nature of reality,” Musk said during the virtual meeting, which was streamed live to Twitter employees and listened to by DailyExpertNews. He added that he hoped the service could help humanity “better understand the nature of the universe, as far as it is possible to understand.”
The meeting, which Mr. Musk attended from his cell phone in what appeared to be a hotel room, suggested he was determined to close the blockbuster deal. In recent weeks there have been doubts about his intentions with Twitter. The billionaire, who also runs electric car maker Tesla and rocket company SpaceX, has repeatedly questioned Twitter’s fake accounts. This month, his lawyers said the company refused to give him any information, an apparent pretext to potentially try to end or renegotiate the acquisition.
Mr. Musk, who offered $54.20 a share to buy Twitter, may have changed his mind after global markets collapsed. Twitter’s stock is now trading around $38. And shares of Tesla, Mr. Musk’s main source of wealth, have plummeted as well.
In April, Mr. Musk had agreed to buy Twitter without doing any due diligence. He’s on the hook for a $1 billion breakup fee if he walks away. Under the terms of the deal, Twitter also has the right to sue him to force the acquisition, if his debt financing for the purchase remains intact.
Twitter has insisted that the deal remains on track and that it has shared information with Mr. Musk.
In his comments on Thursday, Mr. Musk did not directly address whether he would close the deal with Twitter. But he said he had big plans for the service.
In the conversation, moderated by Twitter’s chief marketing officer, Leslie Berland, Mr. Musk said he hoped to grow the service so that it would be used by more than a billion people around the world. That would be nearly four times the number of people currently using Twitter. He added that he was hands-on at Tesla and expected to be on Twitter as well, and that he would be mostly involved in the functions of the social media service.
“I do expect that they will listen to me in this regard,” Mr Musk said.
Mr. Musk answered questions from Twitter employees about Slack’s internal messaging system over the past week.
Some questions were about workplace culture, including remote working. This month, Mr. Musk sent memos to employees at Tesla and SpaceX, saying he expected them to be in the office 40 hours a week. Twitter employees have largely worked remotely during the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking at the meeting, Mr. Musk said he was open to Twitter employees working remotely, as developing software was different from showing up every day to build cars. But he noted that a widespread lack of in-office participation could contribute to a dwindling “esprit de corps” and said he hoped people would want to come to the office more in the future.
Mr. Musk immediately dodged the answer as to whether there would be layoffs at Twitter under his oversight, though his response was ominous.
“Right now, costs are higher than revenues,” he says. “That’s not a great situation.”
Mr. Musk, a veteran Twitter user with more than 98 million followers, has long said he believes the company’s potential is underutilized. He added that he hopes to rejuvenate the service out of the public eye by taking the company private and making significant changes to the way Twitter works.
Within Twitter, some employees have mixed feelings about Mr. Musk. Some have said they are concerned about his Twitter habits and shady politics, and are concerned about the way he has said he would rather take a laissez-faire approach to overseeing the platform. That has raised questions, given the years Twitter spent building its policy department.
Others point to Mr. Musk’s reputation as an innovator. After previous Twitter executives set but failed to meet high financial and user performance goals, some employees have said Mr. Musk can revive the company.