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Opinion: Twitter CEO Linda Yaccarino has uphill battle as Elon Musk’s ‘glass cliff’ hire

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Elon Musk’s appointment of Linda Yaccarino to succeed him as Twitter’s chief executive has all the characteristics of a so-called glass cliff: She’s tasked with the nearly impossible job of turning around a company that faces a steep ad-revenue shortfall, with one of the most dominant Twitter users looking over her shoulder every day.

After teasing the news Thursday, Musk said in a tweet Friday morning that Yaccarino would be his successor. Yaccarino, a veteran media executive, was most recently chairman of global advertising and partnerships at Comcast Corp.’s
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NBCUniversal.

Related: 4 things to know about new Twitter CEO Linda Yaccarino

“It does seem like a textbook case of the glass cliff,” said Jo-Ellen Pozner, an associate professor of management at the Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University. She added that she would rather be wrong, and hopes that Yaccarino succeeds.

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Scholars Michelle Ryan and Alex Haslam, who coined the term, define the glass cliff as a phenomenon in which women and members of other minority groups are more likely to be tapped for high-profile leadership roles that are “risky or precarious.” This poses “an additional, largely invisible, hurdle that women need to overcome in the workplace,” they wrote in a 2005 paper. And it happens with women and people of color across industries and geographies, Keith Dorsey, a partner at an executive search firm, noted in a March article in the MIT Sloan Management Review.

Read more: Former Yahoo CEO on why women are happy to take over troubled companies

It would be an understatement to say that the Twitter Yaccarino will take over is a vastly changed company since Musk’s $44 billion purchase last year. Since taking Twitter private, Musk has fired an estimated 6,000 employees, gutted content moderation, instituted an inconsistent verification system and completely changed the user experience.

In his tweet, Musk said that Yaccarino will be in charge of business operations, while he focuses on product design and new technology.

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But one of Yaccarino’s expected jobs will be working with advertisers, and likely trying to lure them back, after many left in droves in the wake of Musk’s abrupt moves that have vastly changed Twitter. Last month, Musk told the BBC that Twitter was operating at break-even and that it was “trending toward being cash-flow positive very soon, literally in a matter of months.” He also claimed that many advertisers have either come back or said they were coming back.

Because Twitter is now private, it is tough to quickly verify Musk’s comments on the company’s financials. But it’s worth pointing out that he is famous for exaggerations and overzealous projections, and he will still loom large over Twitter, even if he is no longer CEO.

“Appointing someone to treat a symptom, not a cause, is always going to be a failing effort,” Pozner said. “Not just Elon himself — it is the steps he has taken, and he is still going to be in charge of those functions.”

Yaccarino, though, may surprise everyone. In an onstage interview last month with Musk in Miami, she started out by noting that while she is known for her work ethic, Musk is working at three companies every day. “But buddy, I met my match,” she said, going on to ask him about how Twitter fits in with his overall strategy of all his companies.

Yaccarino may have met her match as she moves to take the helm of Twitter, and many will be rooting for her in the hopes that she does not become the next statistic.



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