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Adam Bain as Next Twitter CEO? Agency Players Are Split on His Candidacy

Which is surprising, given his industry popularity

Bain has star qualities, but might not be the next Twitter leader. Photo: Chris Gaede

Who will lead Twitter after Dick Costolo steps down as CEO on July 1? Some of the possible external candidates being bandied about today seem like longshots, chiefly Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and AOL CEO Tim Armstrong, who would both be difficult and expensive to pry away from their current employers. (One can only guess Verizon would pull out all the stops to keep Armstrong just weeks after agreeing to buy AOL.)

At the same time, marketing circles have been buzzing about Twitter revenue chief Adam Bain—mostly because he's grown the microblogging platform's ad business in a fairly aggressive fashion and is known as a classic "people person" who plays well with business partners and media outlets. He's also said to be fairly product savvy, which Twitter desperately needs in order to grow its monthly active users well past its current 300 million. He could be the golden boy that—after a healthy introduction—ever-important Wall Street investors smile upon.

And ad practitioners generally praise Bain. So it was somewhat surprising when we conducted a straw poll to find out that agency players appear to be dramatically split on him becoming Twitter's chief. 

"At first glance, Bain seems like a natural pick given his role and reputation within the company," said said Azher Ahmed, director of digital operations, DDB Chicago. "However, one could easily make the argument you're picking a man who's in charge of a problem area—monetization—and they obviously have a long way to go there. Are you magnifying the problems or giving him the free reign he needs to make more sweeping changes?"

In fact, Ahmed is putting his money on Jack Dorsey, the interim CEO who led Twitter from 2007-2008. Ahmed believes he could be the guy despite the entanglements that would seem to come with Dorsey's current CEO position of Square, the payments company he founded in 2009. 

"He's a little older, a little wiser and I wouldn't be surprised to see him shake things up [at Twitter] dramatically," Ahmed contended. "He knows the platform better than anyone else and can find newer, creative ways to re-imagine Twitter's offering with a more business-minded approach than the 'grand experiment' he started with all those years ago."

Noah Mallin, head of social at MEC North America, couldn't disagree more on Dorsey and Bain. 

"I don't see Jack staying as CEO long term–I see this as a smart stability move as they do their search," he said. "Adam has built and led the team that has grown and drives revenue for Twitter. They are one of the best sales teams in the industry and have the kind of low turnover and high morale that is tough to find in a fluid landscape. I think he'd be a phenomenal CEO and one who would have the immediate trust of advertisers and brands."

While Brand Union CEO Toby Southgate believes Facebook's Sandberg should be target No. 1, he could see Bain getting into the mix if Twitter can't land her. 

"Adam Bain is a future leader for sure, and well respected both internally and across Twitter's partners," he said. "Will they give it to him? I guess that depends on who else they consider and who of course might be considering them." 

Southgate added that Twitter "should not become a clone of Facebook, which is largely what Wall Street wants. In that sense, drawing from within and tapping Adam Bain makes sense to me."

But Bain doesn't make sense to Huge CEO Aaron Shapiro.

"What Twitter truly needs is a great product guy to be brought in as CEO and to restore the company's glory—not someone from the company's current executive team, and not someone from the marketing side," he said. 

Which potential candidate ultimately gets the gig will face plenty of pressure in replacing his or her predecessor—particularly on Madison Avenue. According to some ad players, Costolo was doing well in getting Twitter on the road to bigger profits. 

"I think Wall Street was evaluating Dick by the wrong metrics," Mallin said. "He's done a tremendous job of turning Twitter into an ads and media powerhouse and defining the unique strengths Twitter has in the digital marketing world."

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