Cross Elon Musk at your own peril—it turns out the world’s wealthiest entrepreneur is the vengeful type.
According to an upcoming biography by acclaimed author Walter Isaacson, the Twitter closing was moved forward by a matter of hours in a cloak-and-dagger scheme to exact punishment on CEO Parag Agrawal and the company’s senior management.
Instead of allowing top executives to resign with the change of control as was originally expected, Musk changed the plans at the last second unbeknownst to them, Isaacson wrote in an excerpt published in the Wall Street Journal. That way he could terminate their employment before their stock options would vest.
“There’s a 200-million [dollar] differential in the cookie jar between closing tonight and doing it tomorrow morning,” he explained to the Steve Jobs biographer, who Musk chose personally to pen an official account of the tycoon.
The Tesla CEO and new owner sought retribution because he believed Agrawal’s team fraudulently inflated the number of monetizable Twitter users. This resulted in Musk paying the original $44 billion sum—a price he proposed in April of last year coincidentally right before tech valuations began to plummet that summer.
“It was audacious, even ruthless,” Isaacson wrote of the last-second change of plan. “But it was justified in Musk’s mind because of his conviction that Twitter’s management had misled him.”
An attempt by the Tesla boss to pull out of the deal he signed with the company’s board was thwarted by a Delaware court after Twitter’s then-chairman Bret Taylor sued to enforce the deal.
After months of trying to build an argument that Agrawal and the board had misled investors by deliberately hiding the extent of commercially worthless accounts on the platform, Musk eventually relented amid a dearth of evidence.
“His lawyers finally convinced him that he would lose the case,” Isaacson recounted.
Perfectly executed to the minute
Even as Musk realized defeat was inevitable, the cornered CEO still had one card up his sleeve. Firing Agrawal and his chief lieutenants meant he could yet inflict a final parting blow on those that bested him.
For this plot to actually work however, Isaacson said everything needed to be perfectly timed and executed. Each second counted if Musk wanted to outwit Agrawal.
At precisely 4:12 p.m. Pacific time on Oct. 28, 2022, right when the deal closed, the tycoon’s assistant delivered letters of dismissal to the Twitter CEO and his top three lieutenants.
Six minutes later they had all been escorted from the building and cut off from company email.
“Agrawal had his letter of resignation, citing the change of control, ready to send. But when his Twitter email was cut off, it took him a few minutes to get the document into a Gmail message,” Isaacson wrote. “By that point he had already been fired by Musk.”
This act of vengeance—revealed by Isaacson in all its meticulously planned glory—does not come entirely out of the blue, however.
In July, it emerged that Musk also sought to punish the very law firm that successfully represented Twitter’s board in its case against him, claiming in a lawsuit it overcharged the social media company for winning the $44 billion case on behalf of shareholders.
The world’s wealthiest individual has claimed numerous times he does not care all that much about money or the economics of his Twitter deal, since he bought Twitter to save the “future of civilization” and altruistically help humanity.
But that appears to be not entirely truthful. He clearly does care, at least when he feels he was cheated.