archived 29 Feb 2020 23:10:03 UTC
The activist hedge fund Elliott Management has taken a sizable stake in Twitter and called for changes at the social network.
One of Wall Street’s most powerful activist hedge funds has taken a stake in Twitter and intends to shake up the social network — including by potentially calling for the replacement of its founder, Jack Dorsey, as chief executive, two people briefed on the matter said on Saturday.
Elliott Management, the roughly $40 billion hedge fund run by the billionaire Paul E. Singer, has amassed a significant stake in recent months, which one of the people said was worth about $1 billion. It nominated four candidates for Twitter’s board ahead of a deadline last Sunday to name potential directors, the two people added.
Though Elliott has a number of concerns, its biggest is the fact that Mr. Dorsey currently is the chief executive title at both Twitter and another business he founded, the financial company Square, one of the people briefed on the matter said.
Mr. Dorsey’s divided attention has been a longstanding area of concern for investors in the technology company, whose business and stock price have grown in recent years — but more slowly than its social media competitors.
In the fourth quarter of last year, Twitter generated more than $1 billion in revenue, a first for the company. Advertising sales of $885 million during the quarter were up 12 percent from the same time in 2018. And the number of users who see ads on its platform on a daily basis grew 26 million in 2019, up 21 percent from the prior year.
But investors have complained that Twitter has failed to come up with innovative new products. Though its core social network remains prominent — it is one of President Trump’s primary bullhorns — upstart rivals including, most recently, TikTok, have seized the public’s imagination and eyeballs.
In October, Twitter’s shares fell more than 20 percent when it reported that it has missed Wall Street’s revenue expectations. (The company expects to stage a recovery this year, with major events like the Olympics and the U.S. presidential election drawing users and advertisers to its service.)
More of Mr. Dorsey’s wealth is concentrated in the financial company Square. He owns about 13 percent of the company’s outstanding shares, a holding worth about $4.9 billion as of Friday, while he controls about 2 percent of Twitter’s outstanding shares, worth about $531 million.
Mr. Dorsey was also not a regular presence at Twitter’s San Francisco office for much of last year, making it a point to travel the world, including to visit more than 30 of Twitter’s global offices.
He also took a personal trip to Africa, where he met with local entrepreneurs to discuss the potential of cryptocurrencies there. As he returned from the trip in November, Mr. Dorsey announced his intent to live in Africa for three to six months during the summer of 2020, but added he had not yet selected a country.
In an earnings call earlier this month, Mr. Dorsey said that Twitter would move to decentralize its work force because gathering the majority of its employees in San Francisco “is not serving us any longer.”
Mr. Dorsey has defended his travels, saying on the call, “We are a global service that requires global perspective.”
It is unclear whether Elliott’s concerns would be allayed by Mr. Dorsey giving up the chief executive job at Square and forgoing his plans to live in Africa — or whether Mr. Dorsey would seriously consider doing either.
Twitter lacks a crucial defense against activist shareholders that Silicon Valley peers like Facebook and Google enjoy: It has only one class of stock. That means Mr. Dorsey has no special super-voting shares that give him outsize control of the company, leaving him vulnerable if enough shareholders side with Elliott.
But Twitter is helped by the fact that only three of its directors are up for re-election in any given year, making it impossible for an activist investor to quickly seize a majority of board seats.
For now, the talks between the two sides are constructive, the two people added.
A spokesman for Twitter declined to comment on Elliott’s plans, which were reported on Friday by Bloomberg News.
Correction: March 1, 2020
Twitter generated $885 million in advertising sales during the fourth quarter of 2019. An earlier version of this article incorrectly labelled the figure as earnings.