The career rise and fall of Adam Neumann, the controversial WeWork cofounder

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Adam Neumann has run WeWork since it first got its start nearly 10 years ago, but his role with the company has since come to an abrupt end.

The 41-year-old Israeli-born Neumann has come a long way from the shoe-box-sized New York city apartment he first lived in in the early 2000s.

But his co-working company – valued just months ago at $US47 billion – has been rocked by criticism and controversy since it filed its IPO paperwork in mid-August and revealed spiraling losses. Since the paperwork was released, WeWork has suffered from a lack of investor interest, and has since announced it’s shelving its plans to go public.

In the aftermath, attention turned to Neumann. Scrutiny was placed on his business investments and his complex web of personal connections within WeWork that could pose conflicts of interests. WeWork announced some changes, but it wasn’t enough to get the IPO back on track.

In response, Neumann announced in late 2019 he was stepping down as CEO in the company’s “best interest,” saying he was becoming “a significant distraction” to WeWork’s IPO plans. He then left the company’s board of directors as part of a buyout deal, of which he was expected to get a $US1.7 billion exit package.

However, Neumann may not see all of that sum: SoftBank announced Thursday it would not be going forward with a plan to buy $US3 billion worth of WeWork shares, including shares from Neumann worth $US970 million.

Here’s everything you need to know about Adam Neumann, the WeWork cofounder and ousted CEO:


Adam Neumann, 40, was born is Israel in 1979. His parents got divorced when he was 7, and he moved around a lot as a child with his mother — he reportedly lived in 13 different homes by the time he was 22.

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Source: New York Magazine


As a child, Neumann lived for some time on an Israeli kibbutz, one of the collective community settlement across the country. Neumann attended school near the Gaza Strip while his mother worked as a doctor at a nearby hospital.

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Kibbutz Nir Am, where Neumann lived as a child. Reuters/Amir Cohen

Source: Haaretz


Neumann is severely dyslexic, and couldn’t read or write until he was in third grade.

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Source: Forbes


As is customary for Israeli citizens, Neumann served in the Israel Defence Forces after grade school. He served in the navy for five years, although only three years of service is required. “That’s where I got to know a lot of my best friends,” Neumann told Haaretz in 2017.

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Source: Haaretz


After leaving the IDF, Neumann moved in 2001 to New York City, where he lived in a Tribeca apartment with his sister Adi. He spent his early days in New York going to clubs and “hitting on every girl in the city,” he said in a commencement speech in 2017.

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Source: New York Magazine


Neumann enrolled at city school Baruch College in January 2002 and majored in business. He said he thought of the concept of WeLive, WeWork’s communal living business, for a school entrepreneurship competition. However, the idea was killed in the competition’s second round, because a professor didn’t think Neumann would be able to raise enough money “to change the way people live.”

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Sources: New York Magazine, TechCrunch


Neumann dropped out from college just four credits shy of graduating. He ultimately finished his degree 15 years later in 2017 after completing a four-month long independent study, and delivered the commencement speech for Baruch College’s graduating class.

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Neumann delivering his Baruch College commencement speech in 2017. WeWork/YouTube

Sources: TechCrunch, Business Insider


While in college, Neumann met his now-wife, Rebekah Paltrow Neumann, who is the cousin of actress Gwyneth Paltrow. The pair got married in 2009, and now have five children together.

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Adam Neumann and his wife, Rebekah Paltrow Neumann. Theo Wargo/Getty Images

Source: Observer, Real Deal


On their first date, Paltrow Neumann called out the WeWork cofounder for being “full of s—.” Neumann credits his wife for getting him to stop smoking, and for telling him to pursue his passions instead of dreams to be rich.

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WeWork husband/wife team Rebekah Paltrow Neumann and Adam Neumann. Fortune

Sources: Business Insider, Business Insider


Paltrow Neumann became the founder and CEO of WeGrow, the business under the WeWork company umbrella that operates an elementary school in New York. She was a WeWork founding partner, when she learned there’s “no job too big or too small for each person.”

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Sources: Coveteur, WeGrow


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WeWork is just one of the businesses owned by the $US47 billion company that just filed for its IPO – check out the full list


While Neumann was at college, he worked on two business ventures: a failed idea for collapsible heeled shoe, and baby clothes with built-in knee-pads called Krawlers. He dropped out to pursue the second idea, and developed it into a baby-clothing company called Egg Baby in 2006.

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Sources: Forbes, TechCrunch


Egg Baby is still around today as a luxury baby clothing company headed up by clothes designer Suzan Lazar. Neumann is no longer involved in the day-to-day operations of Egg Baby, whose children’s clothing is sold at department stores around the world.

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Sources: Forbes, TechCrunch


Soon after launching Egg Baby, Neumann met WeWork cofounder Miguel McKelvey through a mutual friend. The two reportedly bonded over their backgrounds and competitive streaks, and McKelvey convinced Neumann to move Egg Baby offices to the same building he was working out of in Brooklyn.

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Miguel McKelvey, left, and Adam Neumann. Scott Legato/Getty

Source: Forbes, New York Magazine


Soon after, the two developed the idea for WeWork after brainstorming an idea for renting out empty office space to other companies. In 2008, they convinced their building’s landlord to let them rent out a floor in a nearby Brooklyn building, and an earth-friendly co-working company called Green Desk was born.

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Miguel McKelvey and Adam Neumann discuss WeWork at IGNITION 2016. Business Insider

Sources: Forbes, New York Magazine


However, McKelvey and Neumann decided to go off on their own. They sold off their share of Green Desk to their landlord for $US3 million, and opened their first WeWork space in 2010 in New York’s Little Italy neighbourhood.

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The first WeWork building at the corner of Grand and Lafayette streets in New York City. Original WeWork Building at 154 Grand Street in NYC’s SoHo.

Sources: Forbes, New York Magazine


Under Neumann as CEO, WeWork has expanded to provide co-working desk space in commercial buildings in more than 120 cities in nearly 40 countries. The company was last valued at $US47 billion.

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Sources: Business Insider, Forbes


One of WeWork’s biggest investors is the Japanese investment firm SoftBank, who has invested more than $US10 billion in the company. Neumann has told Business Insider about his close relationship with SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son, who he calls “Yoda.”

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SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son. Getty Images AsiaPac

Source: Business Insider


Neumann himself was worth an estimated $US4 billion at his peak. Since founding WeWork, Neumann has spent over $US80 million on five homes, including two properties in New York City and one home in the Hamptons. In 2018, he reportedly purchased a 13,000-square-foot home in the San Francisco area, complete with a guitar-shaped room, worth $US21 million.

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Sources: Wall Street Journal, Business Insider


Neumann has also invested in a number of startups, both by himself and on behalf of WeWork. His niche-interest investments include a wave-pool maker, a medical marijuana provider. and a superfood startup, which sells things like “performance mushrooms,” powdered coconut water infused with beets and turmeric, and highly caffeinated coffee.

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Source: Business Insider


Neumann is WeWork’s largest single shareholder. However, in recent years, he’s cashed out some of his stake and also taken out loans. In total, Neumann’s sales and debt transactions have reportedly totaled $US700 million.

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Source: Business Insider


The company publicly filed for an IPO on August 14, 2019. The IPO filing gave the public its best view yet at the company’s money-losing financials: notably, $US1.6 billion in losses on $US1.8 billion in revenue in 2018.

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Business Insider’s Troy Wolverton and Shona Ghosh wrote in their coverage of WeWork’s S-1 that:

“The numbers show spiraling losses over the last three years:

  • During the year December 31, 2016, WeWork lost $US429 million on $US436 million in revenue.
  • The following year that loss increased to $US890 million on $US886 million in revenue.
  • And for the full year 2018, WeWork lost $US1.6 billion on $US1.8 billion in revenue.
  • For the first six months of 2019, the firm posted a loss of $US690 million on $US1.5 billion in revenue.

We Co. will be the most highly valued startup to go public since Uber in May.”


However, along with WeWork’s IPO paperwork came further scrutiny of its business. The filings showed that WeWork paid Neumann just shy of $US6 million for the trademark rights to the word “we,” for the company’s name change to the We Company in January 2019. After widespread criticism, Neumann paid the money back.

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Source: Business Insider


The IPO paperwork also revealed a number of Neumann’s potential conflicts of interest regarding WeWork. Neumann was revealed to have personal financial ties to WeWork buildings, and his wife Rebekah was listed as one of three people who would decide the next CEO if Neumann could no longer run the company. WeWork has since limited her power by removing her ability to help choose the next CEO, and also banned her and any of Neumann’s family members from serving on the board.

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Rebekah and Adam Neumann. Ben Hider/Getty Images

Source: Business Insider


Shortly after the IPO was filed, a report revealed that WeWork had been bleeding human resources managers, and some pointed fingers at Neumann himself as the reason. Neumann reportedly criticised some employees as “B players” behind their backs.

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Source: Business Insider


The IPO paperwork also showed that Neumann had special shares in WeWork that gave him a massive 20 votes per share, as well as majority control over the company. However, his power was limited in WeWork’s amended IPO filing in September 2019, in which the company slashed its valuation from $US47 billion to below $US20 billion.

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Sources: Business Insider, Business Insider


In September 2019, a Wall Street Journal report detailed Neumann’s hard-partying ways, and drug and alcohol use. Two of the most startling revelations in the piece: Once after announcing layoffs, Neumann sent around tequila shots and organised a surprise Run-DMC concert. Also, his private jet was once recalled in Israel after marijuana was found hidden in an onboard cereal box.

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Source: Wall Street Journal


Amidst the criticism, Neumann’s leadership of WeWork was thrown into question. WeWork’s board of directors met in September 2019 to discuss the possibility of removing Neumann as CEO — something reportedly backed by one of Neumann’s best assets, SoftBank head Masayoshi Son.

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SoftBank Group Corp. Chairman and CEO Masayoshi Son. Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images

Source: Business Insider


But on September 24, Neumann said he would be stepping down from his role as WeWork CEO. Neumann said in a statement that he had become a “significant distraction” in recent weeks, and it was in the company’s “best interest” to resign. Two WeWork executives — Sebastian Gunningham and Artie Minson — took his place as co-CEOs. The company then withdrew its S-1 filing, officially postponing its IPO.

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Artie Minson (left) and Sebastian Gunningham, WeWork temporary CEOs. We Company; Samantha Lee/Business Insider

Source: Business Insider


Neumann has since put at least two of his properties up for sale. Both his three-floor New York City penthouse and Hamptons house have been put on the market.

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Neumann’s penthouse at 78 Irving Place. Compass

Source: Business Insider, Mansion Global


Neumann momentarily kept his role as chairman of WeWork’s board of directors, but he stepped down from the board in October 2019. SoftBank, WeWork’s largest investor, was given control of the company as part of a $US9.5 billion bailout plan. As part of the buyout deal, SoftBank planned to provide Neumann with a $US1.7 billion exit package.

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Source: Wall Street Journal, Business Insider


However, SoftBank announced in April iit would not be going through with a big part of its WeWork bailout package. SoftBank had planned to purchase $US3 billion worth of shares from investors and employees — including shares from Neumann worth $US970 million — but backed out, citing “multiple, new, and significant” civil and criminal investigations into WeWork.

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WeWork chairman Marcelo Claure. Riccardo Savi/Getty Images; Xinhua/Pei Xin via Getty Images; Ruobing Su/Business Insider

Source: Business Insider