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Let’s remember why Jack Dorsey was fired as Twitter’s CEO

September 30, 2015, 7:58 PM UTC
Squawk on the Street
SQUAWK ON THE STREET -- Pictured: Dick Costolo and Jack Dorsey in an interview at CNBC's San Francicso bureau, on June 12, 2015 -- (Photo by: John Chiala/CNBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Photograph by John Chiala — CNBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

The early days of any startup are a roller coaster. But Twitter’s history is rockier than most.

On the eve of Jack Dorsey’s official return the CEO role at Twitter (per Recode’s report), it’s worth taking a look at why he was pushed out of the company he co-founded, alongside Evan Williams, Biz Stone and Noah Glass, in 2006.

As Twitter (TWTR) took off, Dorsey was initially put in charge of the company. He oversaw the company’s many, many #Failwhale crashes. In Hatching Twitter, Nick Bilton’s book about Twitter’s early days, Dorsey is painted as a bad manager who took credit for everything, handled criticism poorly, and didn’t know how to manage. It’s worth noting, amid rumors that Twitter will increase its famous 140-character constraint: 140 characters was Dorsey’s idea.

Dorsey’s focus on outside hobbies, including sewing and drawing classes, and his frequent party appearances annoyed his co-workers. His lack of communication to investors and apparent six-figure text message bills annoyed the board. He had frequent arguments with Williams, who had provided the initial funding for Twitter. Oh, and while he was in charge, there was no backup of Twitter’s database.

Eventually, Dorsey’s management was so problematic that Twitter’s board fired him in 2008, offering him a “passive chairman role and silent board seat.” Williams became Twitter’s CEO.

In 2010, as Dorsey was founding Square, he “went rogue,” according to Hatching Twitter, planting numerous media stories about how he’d founded Twitter, invented the product, and was the sole visionary architect behind it. When Dorsey was cut off from his Twitter email account, he launched a whisper campaign among Twitter’s board and employees to get Williams fired and return to the company, the book reports.

It worked: The board replaced Williams with Costolo in 2010. In the process, they bumped Dorsey up from passive board member to Executive Chairman. In other words, he was back in.

Meanwhile, Dorsey created a new Steve Jobs-ian image for himself. To ape Jobs, Dorsey began quoting Gandhi and the Beatles (a Jobs favorite). He donned a uniform a la Jobs, cribbed Jobs’ design principles and vocabulary at Square, and even began to poach Apple (AAPL) employees.

After all, Jobs had been pushed out of the company he founded, too. Jobs also founded a new company, Pixar, in the interim, took it public, and ran it even when he returned to Apple. Mirroring that path, Dorsey plans to run Square, which plans to go public soon, and Twitter simultaneously.

That image as a visionary is why investors want him back at Twitter (and likely why he was named interim CEO during the search). Costolo was known as a great operator, and alongside Chief Revenue Officer Adam Bain, he whipped Twitter’s business into shape. But he got knocked for not being able to articulate his vision for the product and the future of Twitter. Now investors want a “product visionary” to help the product attract more new users.

On his first earnings call as interim CEO of Twitter, Dorsey delivered a clear vision for Twitter’s product. “Twitter has to be the most powerful microphone in the world,” he declared. The reviews were glowing, at least on Twitter, where the hashtag #GoJackGo picked up steam. After news of his permanent return broke today, Twitter’s stock rose.

Our memories are short. Any discussion of Dorsey’s past blunders seem to have been erased from history. Those that argue in favor of Dorsey’s return to Twitter gloss over the way he once manipulated the media and Twitter’s board to get his way.

Ironically, the never-ending stream of fast-paced news and gossip that our Twitter feeds offer only adds to the goldfish-brain problem. Didn’t Jack totally screw up when he was Twitter’s CEO? Ooh look, a selfie stick for dogs!

It’s possible that Dorsey has picked up the leadership skills he once lacked during his time at Square. Based on today’s report, we’ll find out soon enough. But wanting to be the next Steve Jobs doesn’t automatically make it so.

Now read our list of 8 CEOs who led two companies at once.


You can follow Erin Griffith on Twitter at @eringriffith, and read all of her articles here.

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