Club of Indian-American CEOs growing but Parag Agrawal's test is to turn around Twitter

With IIT Bombay alumnus Parag Agrawal taking over as CEO of Twitter, there is renewed interest in the future course that the social media platform takes and if it lives up to investors' expectations

A meme that has been doing the rounds on social media
A meme that has been doing the rounds on social media

Arun Kumar Shrivastav

Jack Dorsey, 45, announced on November 29 his resignation as the CEO of social media giant Twitter he co-founded in 2005, the year his successor Parag Agrawal passed out of Indian IIT-Bombay. Agrawal’s appointment as Twitter CEO was announced on November 29. He was Twitter’s Chief Technology Officer since 2017.

Agrawal (37) is virtually the same age as Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and is among the growing number of Indian-Americans to head a global tech company in the footsteps of Satya Nadella (Microsoft), Sundar Pichai (Alphabet of which Google is a subsidiary), Arvind Krishna (IBM) and Shantanu Narayen (Adobe).

While Nadella graduated from Manipal Institute of Technology and Narayen passed out from University College of Engineering in Osmania University, Pichai is an alumnus of IIT-Kharagpur and Arvind Krishna of IIT-Kanpur.

Agrawal, among the youngest CEOs, was born in Mumbai and studied in Atomic Energy Central School No. 4 before graduating from IITBombay. He went on to obtain a doctorate in computer science from Stanford University. His wife Vineeta is a venture capital investor and they have a son, Ansh.

Dorsey was acting as CEO of both Twitter and the electronic payments company Square. His inability to devote full time to Twitter was blamed for the company’s relatively poor performance compared to other social media companies like Facebook. He will however continue to be on the Board of Twitter. Analysts believe his decision to step down was guided by his passion for Bitcoin. He wants to transform Square into the next-gen electronic payments system that deals in both crypto and fiat currencies.

Dorsey is known to be a big fan of cryptocurrencies, especially Bitcoin, and in recent months he introduced features on Twitter that offer Bitcoin tips. In July, Dorsey had announced that he would launch a new venture that would make Bitcoin mining more accessible. Mining is a validation process for transactions on a distributed ledger, one of the basic principles of blockchain technology.

Dorsey’s decision to give up the role of Twitter CEO to focus more on Square and Bitcoin mining comes close on the heels of Meta (formerly Facebook) founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to transform his company from social media to Metaverse – a virtual universe that combines Artificial Intelligence, Digital Avatar, Virtual Currencies, Smart Contracts, Decentralized Finance, Non-Fungible Tokens, and more.

Twitter’s market cap at $37.4 billion is way behind that of Meta (formerly Facebook) the market cap of which is close to a trillion dollars ($940 billion). However, over the last decade, Twitter has emerged as the social media platform where the powerful people of the world speak their minds. Presidents, PMs, CEOs, billionaires and celebrities of the world have used the platform to air their views and opinion.

Dorsey courted controversy by banning former US President Donald Trump from its platform while allowing the Taliban to continue on Twitter. Twitter India has also stepped on the toes of the BJP Government in India by contesting demands for taking down posts.

As Twitter CEO, he was a quirky personality who walked five miles to his office to beat stress and remain alert on the job. He would eat only dinner and fast on the weekends. Before Dorsey co-founded Twitter in 2005, he had dabbled in modelling and fashion designing. Dorsey would also spend hours in meditation. The bearded Dorsey in his casuals hardly ever looked like the old fashion model that he was before 2005.

A key point in favour of Parag Agrawal’s elevation to the chief executive of the $37 billion social media platform, is his work experience as the CTO overseeing Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning.

The role of Chief Technology Officer (CTO) is increasingly becoming important in the new tech-heavy business environment. Several techno-entrepreneurs are presiding over multi-billion dollar companies as CTOs rather than CEO like Dharmesh Shah who co-founded Hubspot, a marketing automation company now worth $40 billion. As businesses become linked to technology, the role of engineers, particularly the CTO, has gained in importance.

The world’s richest man and tech entrepreneur Elon Musk tweeted: USA benefits greatly from Indian talents! He was responding to a tweet by financial payment system Stripe CEO Pattrick Collison who said: Google, Microsoft, Adobe, IBM, Palo Alto Networks, and now Twitter run by CEOs who grew up in India.

(IPA Service with NHS inputs)

(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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