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Can a Purge of the Executive Suite Help Fix an Ailing Twitter?

January 25, 2016, 8:34 PM UTC

It wasn’t exactly the Red Wedding from the Game of Thrones—in which most of the Stark clan are put to the sword—but Sunday was not a great day to be a senior executive at Twitter. In what amounts to a purge of the executive suite, the heads of product and media, and senior members of the engineering and HR teams suddenly left the company. But will any of this fix what is ailing Twitter?

News of the executive departures broke mid-day Sunday, with simultaneous reports from both Re/code and the New York Times that a number of senior managers were on their way out.

At first, it was just product head Kevin Weil and the head of media, Katie Jacobs Stanton, but then VP of engineering Alex Roetter was added to the list, and later a senior VP of HR, Brian “Skip” Schipper. The head of Twitter’s Vine video service also left.

According to the NYT, two new board members will be named soon, including what a source called “a high-profile media personality.” Re/code and the New York Times also both said that a new chief marketing officer is coming to Twitter soon—possibly Leslie Berland, a former marketing exec at American Express.

So why the sudden purge? Some veteran Twitter-watchers said the departures had the feel of a slate-cleaning by CEO Jack Dorsey, who took over from former chief executive Dick Costolo in a somewhat controversial move (since he also happens to be the CEO of the digital-payments processing company Square). The idea that all of them would suddenly decide to quit at the same time seems a little hard to believe.

Some or all of those who are leaving were chosen by Costolo, so insiders say Dorsey may want his own lieutenants in those jobs. And in some cases, the CEO and co-founder may even want to take on some of their duties himself—including the product lead position, for example, which Dorsey has held a number of times at Twitter and may feel entitled to.

A Twitter spokesman told The Wall Street Journal on Monday that the company has no plans to replace Weil as head of product, either now or in the future, which suggests that at least some of his duties may be assumed by Dorsey. Commerce head Nathan Hubbard is said to be taking over interim media duties.

Twitter may want to increase the character limit to 10,000

As for the board of directors, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal, Dorsey made it a condition of his return that he be allowed to reconfigure the board, which is why two new board members are coming and some others may eventually be replaced.

The departures of at least two of the four departing executives have been portrayed by several reports as firings, or forced dismissals. But Dorsey himself took to Twitter to contradict this impression late Sunday night, addressing what he called “inaccurate press rumors,” and saying he was sad that all four were leaving.

Beyond the office politics and Game of Thrones-style intrigue about who stabbed whom, the larger question behind the mass exodus of senior staff is whether any of this is likely to help Twitter (TWTR) regain any of its luster, particularly in the eyes of investors. The company’s stock has lost almost 50% of its value in just the past three months, and it is trading well below the $73 peak it hit after it went public in 2013.

In the short term at least, the purge in the executive suite seems to have increased the market’s nervousness: Twitter’s stock lost another 4% or so on Monday after the news broke. While it’s possible that the moves Dorsey has made will bring in new vision and new strategies for Twitter, it’s also just another sign of turmoil at the top.

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In fact, the only high-profile technology stock that has seen the same kind of revolving door in its senior executive ranks is Yahoo (YHOO), and that’s probably not the kind of company Twitter wants to be emulating. Among other things, Twitter has had more than five heads of product in the past several years, and each one has made wrenching changes in the service in an attempt to boost its user numbers, but to no avail.

All of this turmoil and the precipitous decline in the share price have combined to make Twitter look like damaged goods—to the point where analysts say some potential acquirers might not even be interested in buying it, despite the fact that it is substantially cheaper than it was a year ago. Is Dorsey’s purge going to change that, or make it more likely that Twitter succeeds on its own? At this point, it’s difficult to see how.