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‘She will only ever be the Twitter COO for Musk, at worst, his Executive PA’: How much authority will Twitter’s new CEO actually have?

Slaven Vlasic—Getty Images

At the end of last year, Elon Musk announced he would be stepping down from Twitter’s helm as soon he found someone “foolish enough to take the job.”

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It seems that “foolish” someone has now been found as Musk announced he will be replaced as CEO in just six weeks, on Twitter of course.

“Excited to announce that I’ve a new CEO for X/Twitter,” he tweeted on Thursday. “She will be starting in ~6 weeks! My role will transition to being exec chair & CTO, overseeing product, software and sysops.”

The Twitter owner did not reveal the identity of the person; however, multiple media reports point to NBC Universal’s chairman of global advertising and partnerships Linda Yaccarino as Musk’s successor.

Yaccarino quit her job at NBC today.

Musk has said for months that he did not plan to remain in the CEO role for the long term—his other ventures, including electric car company Tesla and rocket company SpaceX, need his attention too—but it’s clear from his recent announcement that Musk doesn’t want to sit on Twitter’s back bench with his new role as chair and CTO.

Whoever Musk’s replacement is, experts tell Fortune she’ll have her work cut out with him hovering on the sidelines and impacting how much change she can actually implement on Twitter 3.0.

It’s worked out in the past

It’s not uncommon for a founding chief executive to step aside after successfully building a product so that a more effective leader can manage the organization's day-to-day operations.

Having remodeled Twitter, you could argue, Musk is simply following in the footsteps of Jeff Bezos, Larry Page, et al.

“It’s a smart move from an owner in this space because effectively a CEO’s role is about leading an organization, leading a company and a culture, and sometimes the best people to do that are not the people who founded the business or own the business,” insists business performance and leadership coach Danny Wicks.

Despite not having founded Twitter, Musk is primally a “product guy,” and so having someone else run the business, shape its culture, and face shareholders leaves Musk free to do what he does best.

“Can that become a challenge when the predecessor won’t go, yes, absolutely," says Wicks, "but if you create the right boundaries and you create the right structure in which you operate then there’s no reason why it can’t work.”

The buck stops with Musk

Businesses can benefit from retaining their former chief executives—and with it their knowledge, experience, network, and reputation. But for a new CEO, that can be stifling.

“Research finds that a former CEO’s continuing presence in the board—and particularly as chairman—suppresses the new CEO’s ability to implement strategic change and, ultimately, deliver performance that deviates from the levels of the predecessor,” cautions Dr. Moritz Appels, assistant professor of organizational behavior at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University.

“While a CEO can wield substantial power over an array of firm outcomes, the board ultimately delimits CEOs’ managerial discretion and thus influence.”

But there are exceptions to this rule (for example, Appels says, extroverted CEOs tend to be able to wield more influence), so who pulls the strings at the social media giant will depend much on the personality and values of both the new CEO and Musk.

However, as Kate Davis, accredited leadership expert and CEO of the organizational development consultancy Meraki House, points out, no matter how larger than life the new Twitter chief is, chances are that Musk’s presence looms larger.

“As an INTJ, Musk is a driven visionary, who will keep his analysis and thought processes to himself until he has decided the strategy and then expect others to follow,” Davis says. “He won't take well to others challenging his authority or his competence, but he will value the concept of 'winning' above all else.”

Really, Musk isn’t any normal low-profile CEO who’s stepping aside.

Crucially, he’s still the social media giant’s owner, he is famously outspoken, and his recent decision to be not only Twitter’s executive chair but also CTO suggests that he wants to continue shaping the brand’s future.

“Despite being the new CEO at Twitter, the buck doesn’t really stop with the new CEO. But it does with Musk,” says Richard Hillgrove, founder of 6Hillgrove PR, who has represented the likes of Charles Saatchi and Dame Vivienne Westwood.

With over 139 million followers on Twitter, he echoes that Musk’s cult of personality and operational style “will deafen any real efforts made by the new CEO the make their own leadership mark.”

It’s all on Musk

Academics and leadership coaches consistently told Fortune that how much authority the new CEO has really depends on how much authority Musk is willing to give her.

Hillgrove isn’t optimistic.

“She might tactically be called CEO because Musk promised to step down after losing a Twitter vote, but in reality, she will only ever be the Twitter COO for Musk; at worse, Musk’s executive PA,” he says, while adding that if Musk was serious about “giving a new CEO room to maneuver” he would have left the business entirely.

Either way, Davis thinks this is a matter for Twitter’s incoming chief to reckon with.

“What will be imperative is that the incoming CEO has full and frank conversations not only with Musk, but also the other key stakeholders, shareholders, and other members of the board to understand what her official remit is, how much autonomy she would take or whether this is an appointment in name only,” she says.

Each party will have its own take on the matter, but she will need to understand where she truly sits in the pecking order before creating her own strategy.

If she establishes her authority early on, proves to Musk that her way of working forward will help him 'win' and impresses the wider forces at Twitter, Davis thinks the new CEO could have as much authority as any other incoming leader in similar shoes.

In fact, Musk's big personality may even work in her favor.

“Musk has famously ignored other voices,” Davis adds. This could be where Twitter’s new chief forges strategic alliances, finds more rounded solutions, and holds a stronger position to stand her ground.

“It's all about playing for strategic advantage here.”

This story was originally featured on

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