SAN FRANCISCO, USA (AFP) — After snapping up Twitter, Elon Musk swiftly introduced his no-holds-barred work ethic, setting up a bitter culture clash with thousands of workers who still believed in the platform's higher mission.
In less than a month, Musk sacked half the company's 7,500 employees, axed executives and engineers who disagreed with him and finally imposed an ultimatum: Work "extremely hardcore" or leave.
The style is reminiscent of what Musk pushed through at Tesla, SpaceX and his other companies, where the multi-billionaire drove his teams hard, seeing their personal sacrifice as the key to success.
After an initial willingness to wait and see, Musk's style has proved disconcerting in a company culture that valued ethics and a strong sense of community, even when worked hard.
"His behaviour is still of the bully on the playground, firing anyone who tells him he's wrong," said Sarah Roberts, a social media professor at UCLA. "Any kind of criticism with his wildly inaccurate...statements gets you fired."
Musk brings "this kind of swashbuckling bravado from being an entrepreneur interested in things like rockets and cars and big hardware," said John Wihbey, a media professor at Northeastern University.
"The Twitter culture is much more low key. It [is] geeky, pro-social vibe," he said.
The libertarian entrepreneur has long had close ties with Silicon Valley, where he co-founded Tesla.
Twitter was founded by Jack Dorsey, with his "spiritual seeker vibe", said Wihbey.
Ex-employees gather on Discord, WhatsApp, signal and other platforms to support each other.
Many former "tweeps" said they were okay with working hard, but not just for bombastic promises, at the mercy of brutal decision-making.
When an employee asked during a meeting about the risk of attrition, Musk replied that he had no "great answer."
"I can tell you what works at Tesla is people being in the office and being hard core," he said.
The mercurial leader abhors work from home, which is very popular with computer engineers, and loves to tell how he slept on site at Tesla when his company was "on the verge of bankruptcy".
"He was able to drive things hard at Neuralink, Tesla, or Solar City because they had technologies that were on the frontier or, in the case of Tesla, far enough ahead of most other commercial automakers. He has a highly committed workforce there," said Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, professor at Yale University.
At Twitter, on the other hand, the massive lay-offs, the new culture of coercion and Musk's "whims" are not likely to rally the staff, said Sonnenfeld, a specialist in corporate governance.
"At this stage," said Sarah Roberts, "for many it's a badge of honour to have been fired by Elon."