Stories about Adam Neumann from WeWork: Will the company go bust?
If you’re an adult who’s lived in a big city anywhere in the world over the past decade, you’ve probably heard of WeWork. After a few failed ideas, including retractable high heels and baby pants with kneepads, Adam Neumann cofounded WeWork with architect & good friend Miguel McKelvey.
Dubbed by Adam Neumann a “physical social network”, WeWork is a coworking office space with glass cube offices in a loft building. Companies rent out offices and freelancers use the communal space to work outside of their homes. WeWork was wildly successful at one point with its good coffee, sense of community, and its (no longer available) free beer access.
In Reeves Wiedeman’s new book Billion Dollar Loser: The Epic Rise and Spectacular Fall of Adam Neumann and WeWork, Wiedeman calls Neumann a “partier in chief”. In his early days with the company, Neumann had a punching bag, a gong, and a bar in his office. He then later had a private bathroom with a sauna & a cold-plunge tub in his New York office.
A so-called “millennial prophet for a new way of working & living”, Adam Neumann created a frat house-esque workplace. WeWork was filled with young, recent college grads freshly entering the workforce. The company recreated the college experience by making the young adults work long hours, having parties & company retreats, and making friends with coworkers.
Toxic work environment
In Billion Dollar Loser, author Reeves Wiedeman gathered inconceivable stories from employees of WeWork who spoke about the company & working with Adam Neumann. According to The Daily Mail, there is a long list of unfortunate & inappropriate incidents, including Neumann walking around the office barefoot and jumping on people’s desks & conference tables and yelling.
Ex-employees claimed Adam Neumann would blare music at obnoxious volumes and scream at anyone who asked for it to be turned down. There was one tequila-fueled party in which a journalist for The Guardian shouted at the WeWork staff to shut up. Neumann shouted back, “You shut up!”, turned up the music and then stacked his hands on top of each other as if he were building a tower of dollar bills.
Adam Neumann’s unprofessional antics included scheduling meetings for 2am and arriving forty-five minutes late. He demanded that cases of Don Julio 1942 tequila be at every office. He sprayed potential investors with a fire extinguisher. In the book, ex-employees said quitting their jobs was like “escaping (cults like) Jonestown or Waco”. (Yikes!)
The lack of women at WeWork was a serious issue. When a woman joined the company’s engineering staff, the employees had to rewrite the code because the men had described a reddish color in the design as “hooker’s blood”. When Adam Neumann was asked about the lack of diversity at the company, Neumann said, “Diversity? I’m a brunette, Michael’s blond and we have Noah (who was gay).”
In 2018, former WeWork employee Ruby Anaya, filed a lawsuit saying there had been two incidents of sexual harassment at company events. According to CNN, Anaya worked for the company for nearly four years as product manager and director of culture. She first reported the incidents to the company’s human resources department.
The complaint states, “In both instances, the male employee professed to be too drunk to remember the incident.” Anaya was fired in what she considers to be an act of retaliation. She was told she was fired for being a “poor performer”, despite never receiving a negative performance review.
“Summer Camp” was the name of WeWork’s biggest company retreat, held in August 2018 to celebrate the company’s $35 billion valuation. Around 8,000 WeWork staff & their families were invited to the company retreat. The staff and their guests slept on air mattresses while the founders enjoyed the trip more luxuriously.
Cofounder Miguel McKelvey had a one-page list of demands for his campsite. His list included a weekend’s supply of wine, beer, and coconut water. He also demanded a fire pit & Popchips.
Adam Neumann and his wife Rebekah Paltrow (Gwyneth Paltrow’s cousin), on the other hand, had a three-and-a-half page list. Their demands included, but weren’t limited to, a tent house with its own heating, air conditioning, eight picnic tables, four two-seater couches, chairs, two refrigerators, and a large coffee table. They also demanded a king bed, four twin beds, and a crib. (Sounds more like a five-star hotel than glamping.)
For transportation, the list included, but weren’t limited to, dinosaur-themed buggies, a Range Rover for the couple, and a Mercedes V Class. They insisted on having a 24/7 security guard, two 24/7 drivers, and two “dedicated” bartenders. According to Billion Dollar Loser, their alcohol list could have covered a majority of an entry-level WeWork salary.
Early investors did well as WeWork grew. Softbank invested more than $10 billion. At one point, the company was theoretically valued at $47 billion and is now valued around $3 billion.
In 2019, the company decided to go public with their finances which ended up being a “spectacular” failure. According to Billion Dollar Loser author Reeves Wiederman, Adam Neumann was essentially pushed out of the company with a “billion dollar exit package” from Softbank. In the Spring, Softbank claimed Neumann & WeWork had reneged on certain parts of their deal.
At the moment, the deal is tied up with the lawyers and it’s unclear exactly how much Neumann will end up getting.
Check out the book Billion Dollar Loser: The Epic Rise and Spectacular Fall of Adam Neumann and WeWork to find out more about this disastrous company and its ridiculous founder.