Twitter's Parag Agrawal is youngest CEO in S&P 500

The 37-year-old chief joined the social networking service in 2011 as an engineer

Twitter's newly appointed chief executive Parag Agrawal has emerged from behind the scenes to take over one of Silicon Valley's highest-profile and politically volatile jobs. Photo: Twitter via AP
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Twitter's new head Parag Agrawal is now the youngest chief executive in the S&P 500, but apparently just barely.

Mr Agrawal, who was appointed on Monday to succeed Twitter founder and chief executive Jack Dorsey, is 37 years old, the same age as Meta Platform chief executive Mark Zuckerberg.

Berkshire Hathaway chief executive Warren Buffett is the oldest chief executive in the S&P 500 at 91, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The average age of a chief executive among the 500 largest companies is about 58 years, data shows.

By naming Mr Agrawal as chief executive – after his four-year stint as the company’s chief technology officer – Twitter is turning inward, choosing a low-profile technologist to steer a social network that has underperformed the market, haltingly introduced new products, and struggled to moderate harmful content under a leader long-criticised for divided attention.

Prior to his move to Twitter, Mr Agrawal earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science and engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai and a doctorate in computer science from Stanford University.

He has worked as a researcher for Microsoft, Yahoo! and AT&T, according to his LinkedIn profile.

He joined Twitter in 2011 as an engineer at a time when the company had fewer than 1,000 employees. In that role, he worked on boosting audience growth and revenue, and was named Twitter’s first distinguished engineer, the company said.

After being named chief technology officer in 2017, he led the company’s technical strategy, including overseeing advancements in machine learning, according to Twitter’s website.

Now, Mr Agrawal takes over a company that has been slow to roll out new products and features for years, but has started to move faster, make more acquisitions and push into areas that might expand the business, like live audio and subscriptions.

Mr Dorsey, 45, will remain on the board through the summer and will stay at the helm of Square, the payments company he also co-founded.

While Mr Dorsey is a billionaire celebrity with famous friends and millions of Twitter followers, Mr Agrawal is still a relative unknown who has spent no time in the limelight at the controversial social media company.

Mr Dorsey’s personal interests – like music and Bitcoin – often made an appearance in his posts, and eventually made their way onto the company’s product roadmap, but he has fallen short of transforming the business since he took over for his second stint as chief executive in 2015.

The company’s new chief will inherit Twitter’s political scuffles – including criticism over its ban on former president Donald Trump, as well as friction with India’s ruling party. And he’ll have to chase aggressive goals to step up user growth, double revenue and expedite product execution.

“What’s going to be his North Star that he puts out there to kind of bet the farm – or at least his career – on?” said Mark Shmulik, an equity research analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein. “And then how successful will he be at delivering against that?”

Twitter’s accelerated targets for growth were put in place after activist investor Elliott Management took a stake in early 2020 to pressure the company to jump-start its business. After making initial changes that satisfied Elliott in 2020, in February 2021 Twitter announced goals to double annual revenue by 2023, and to continue to grow its user base by 20 per cent each over the next three years.

On the plus side, Mr Agrawal’s appointment means Twitter will have a full-time chief executive for the first time in years. Mr Dorsey’s position as leader of Square was one of Elliott’s main criticisms of the social network.

Mr Agrawal is also joining the company’s board, and director Bret Taylor, who is chief operating officer of software maker, was named independent chairman.

Although Mr Agrawal may not ever cut as public a profile as his predecessor, as chief executive he will be required to forge new relationships with the press, regulators and even his own employees.

Updated: November 30, 2021, 10:16 AM