Spoilers for Hulu's WeWork documentary are ahead. Few companies and even fewer CEOs have had the dramatic rise and fall of WeWork, also known as The We Company, and charismatic, controversial leader Adam Neumann. A new Hulu documentary, WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn, shows that Neumann’s unconventional leadership style and controversial, reckless behavior was at once an integral part of WeWork’s success and the company’s biggest liability — and, ultimately, the company’s downfall.
Neumann founded WeWork, billed as something of an in-person social media network, in 2010. The premise was simple: It was a place where startup employees and freelancers could find community, but more than that, it was a place where work and life just became one and the same. Employees worked long hours, but were also treated with extravagant perks and glamorous parties. At the center of everything was Neumann, who dazzled countless workers and investors alike with his idea, which he insisted was the future.
By 2018, the giant had over 50 locations and had become New York City’s largest private office tenant. And by 2019, the company wasn’t just about work: it was an entire We-Universe. Neumann oversaw apartment complexes (WeLive), schools (WeGrow) and a gym (Rise by We).
WeWork is now going public in a new merger, two years after its first disastrous attempt ended in controversy, financial loss, and Neumann’s unceremonious removal. Here’s a breakdown of how, exactly, Neumann’s unicorn blew up, and a look into where he is now.
What happened to WeWork?
Former employees told Vanity Fair that they were often promised the company would become unimaginably profitable once it went public. But once WeWork actually attempted an IPO, everything fell apart.
In August 2019, the company released its mandatory S-1 paperwork, which was… alarming. The document was mocked for everything from its dramatic epitaph (“We dedicate this to the energy of we — greater than any one of us but inside each of us”) to a section titled “Expected Resilience in a Downturn” (of course, this did not age well). At least 10 pages discuss, in detail, “risk factors” specifically related to Neumann, including interviews he gave that violate the IPO quiet period, reported The Verge. Tech journalist Shira Ovide called the S-1’s revelations “astonishing,” writing that the company’s “growth is overwhelming, but it’s not clear that it got there in a sustainable way.” Neumann was also criticized for a disclosure that he made millions by selling a trademark back to the company. Neumann reportedly had no idea that any of his admissions in the S-1 were abnormal or reflected poorly on him, sources told Vanity Fair.
After outlets also began reporting allegations about Neumann’s behavior (more on that in a bit), investor support started dwindling. The company slashed its valuation from $47 billion to around $10 billion, but was still in crisis mode. WeWork was rescued by Japanese technology investment fund SoftBank — headed by Masayoshi “Masa” Son, one of Neumann’s biggest and richest allies — which agreed to pay Neumann nearly $1.7 billion to step down. SoftBank valued WeWork at around $8 billion (a $39 billion dollar drop), and took a stake of about 80%.
What happened to Adam Neumann?
Neumann was pressured to resign in September 2019 after a perfect storm of blows. Aside from the company’s financial problems and struggles to gain investor backing, SoftBank’s board members reportedly “lost faith” in his ability to lead. Masa was known as Neumann’s most prominent, most important backer; in 2017, he reportedly offered Neuman an investment of $4.4 billion after meeting with him for just 12 minutes. Without SoftBank’s support, other investors were skeptical.
And then there were the allegations about Neumann and the company culture. His former chief of staff accused him of retaliating against her once she became pregnant, and she also alleged that she couldn’t travel with Neumann because he frequently hotboxed WeWork’s company jet. Another woman, onetime director of culture Ruby Anaya, sued WeWork, claiming that she had been fired after reporting that she was sexually harassed during a work event and arguing that the business was home to an “entitled, frat boy culture.”
Even aside from the controversies, he was likened to a cult leader running a toxic (and sometimes, just bizarre) environment. Employees recalled him showing up high or hungover to meetings and making odd, bold announcements that WeWork would expand to other planets, and that he would become the President, Israel’s Prime Minister, or a trillionaire.
Where is Adam Neumann now?
Neumann’s relationship with SoftBank has remained testy. After he was ousted, the investment company reneged on a deal to buy $3 billion in WeWork shares, citing criminal and civil investigations into the company, reported CNBC. In February 2021, they reached a settlement, with SoftBank agreeing to pay around half of the $3 billion.
Other than that, though, Neumann has kept a low profile. According to Vanity Fair’s tell-all, his friends say he views himself as a “martyr.” He also reportedly fled New York in 2019, shortly after he was ousted from the company; an insider told the New York Post said that the family had traveled to South America and Israel with a housekeeper, several nannies, and security.
Once worth $4 billion, Neumann has lost a lot of money amid WeWork’s financial turmoil. He’s no longer a billionaire, but he definitely isn’t struggling: Forbes lists Neumann’s net worth at around $750 million. He’s made several major investments, including $30 million in a real estate start-up called Hello Alfred. Interestingly enough, start-up co-founder Marcela Sapone once likened the company to WeWork before Neumann's very public fall from grace. “As WeWork transformed commercial real estate, Hello Alfred is transforming residential real estate, and redefining what it means to live in a city today,” she told TechCrunch in early 2019.