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Twitter IPO could mint more millionaires in Silicon Valley

Twitter's IPO could mint some new multimillionaires who will have to figure out how to manage that wealth.
Twitter's IPO could mint some new multimillionaires who will have to figure out how to manage that wealth.Richard Drew / AP

As Twitter launches its road show in preparation to go public next month, it’s a good guess that at least a few employees outside the executive suite at the social media company are killing a little time browsing listings for San Francisco lofts or top-of-the-line sports cars.

“We can surmise there are going to be a number of multimillionaires,” said Kathleen Smith, a principal at IPO fund manager Renaissance Capital.

For some employees, it could change their lives.

Hilary Martin, a financial adviser at Family Wealth Consulting Group, had a mid-level marketing employee at Google come to her nearly a decade ago when the search engine giant went public. The 30-year-old worker, who was worth $1.5 million overnight, quit her job shortly thereafter.

Martin predicted some of this could happen at the microblogging company. “I do think Twitter’s going to produce millionaires in the rank-and-file employees,” she said.

Renaissance Capital’s Smith noted that there are 743 other shareholders outside of the executive suite who are likely holders of restricted stock units. These have a combined value of roughly $1.5 billion if the stock debuts in the middle of its $17 to $20 share price range.

If the number of shares outstanding were distributed equally among these employees, the value of their stock would be about $200,000 each, but Smith said it’s likelier that some employees will wind up with a bigger cut of the pie. The company did not respond to a request for comment.

Twitter’s S-1 filing with the SEC includes a provision to let employees sell some stock in February to cover taxes they owe from gains this year. Smith said this suggests that the company anticipates that some workers who don’t already have a lot of assets accrued will realize big gains from their stock.

An opening-day bounce won’t be enough to make these workers rich, though. Their stock is essentially wealth on paper until May, when the 180-day lockup period expires.

This waiting period could benefit workers, though. Francis Gaskins, president of IPO Desktop, predicted that the stock could be worth more by next spring.

“I think it’ll be $40, something like that at least,” he said. The small number of shares creates a scarcity premium and Twitter’s business model is gaining steam, he said.

Becoming a millionaire overnight comes with serious responsibilities, not the least of which is figuring out what to do with that money.

“I’m sure every broker or financial adviser is out there talking to employees, along with every real estate broker in San Francisco,” Smith said.

At Google, financial advisers staked out the parking lot and waited for employees there, Martin said. But most Silicon Valley tech millionaires don’t seek financial help until they’ve been burned. “Young people don’t tend to reach out for advice. They think they know better,” she said.

That’s a risky move.

“When you have a situation where your assets far outpace your income, if you make a financial mistake, you don’t have a chance to earn it back,” Martin said.

And some of those Twitter employees should probably think twice before firing off resignation emails, she said. “Unfortunately, in the time we’re living in, a million dollars isn’t enough to retire anymore.”