Live interview with WeWork’s Israeli founder Adam Neumann nabs Emmy nod
Media appearance was Neumann’s first since his ouster as WeWork CEO after a botched IPO that tanked the company’s valuation, following mass coverage of its rise and fall
Ricky Ben-David is The Times of Israel’s Tech Israel editor and reporter.
A live interview with Israeli entrepreneur Adam Neumann, the co-founder and former CEO of WeWork — once a tech industry darling with an eye-watering valuation of nearly $50 billion — has been nominated for an Emmy in the 43rd Annual News & Documentary Awards coming up next month.
The 48-minute interview took place last November at The New York Times DealBook Summit hosted by NYT financial columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin. It was Neumann’s first media sit-down since he was ousted from WeWork in 2019 following a highly publicized, dramatic tailspin that led to WeWork quickly losing cash, canceling its planned IPO and accepting a bailout by Japanese investment firm SoftBank, its biggest backer.
The breakdown was largely attributed to Neumann’s antics, temperamental nature, and management style — widely covered in a number of books, a well-received Apple podcast series called “WeCrashed” that also became a TV show by the same name (starring Jared Leto as Neumann), and the 2021 documentary “WeWork: Or The Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn.”
The deep-dive interview, nominated in the “Outstanding Live Interview” category, came a month after WeWork debuted on Wall Street through a SPAC merger in October 2021 at a market value of about $9 billion, a far cry from its peak at $47 billion.
SoftBank had spent over $5 billion on WeWork’s bailout and Neumann walked away with nearly $2 billion, according to reports at the time. A legal dispute against SoftBank led by WeWork investors and shareholders, who lost millions as the company crashed, was settled early last year. The agreement also gave Neumann another $50 million windfall.
“I have had a lot of time to think, and there have been multiple lessons, multiple regrets,” Neumann said in the interview with Sorkin, acknowledging that the rapid rise of WeWork’s valuation “maybe… went to my head.”
“The valuation made us feel like we were right, which made me feel that whatever style I was leading at was a correct style at the time, so I do think it affected it… I do think at some point it did,” said Neumann, who grew up partially on a kibbutz in southern Israel.
Neumann left Israel for New York after his military service and founded WeWork in 2010 with Miguel McKelvey, taking the startup world by storm throughout the 2010s, with property, offices, and other ventures all over the world. At the height of its popularity, WeWork was a dazzling unicorn and SoftBank’s founder Masayoshi Son had openly hailed Neumann’s vision.
In his interview, Neumann said his “style” led WeWork from a small startup to a recognizable brand with a presence in over 100 cities, but it was not the right style when it came time to go public.
Neumann said he feels “tremendous regret” for the employees who lost their jobs and many whose options became essentially worthless as the valuation tanked.
The former CEO said he wanted to dispel the “perception that as the company went from a $47 billion valuation down to $9 billion, that I profited somehow while the company was going down… [it] is completely false.
Neumann said he made about $870 million from selling stocks and was paid about $180 million from SoftBank as a consultant and to take control of the company as part of the bailout.
Neumann said the “false narrative” that he walked away a billionaire when the company should have otherwise gone bankrupt and while many employees got nothing was one he couldn’t correct because he “wasn’t speaking.”
“When you take equity… and you join a startup, you take a risk,” he said. “Now, I wish it would have worked out differently for everybody but the market now decided that it’s worth $9 billion. It’s getting measured on a daily basis and I actually think WeWork today has a better opportunity than it had then.”
Neumann heaped praise on WeWork’s new leadership, headed by Sandeep Mathrani, a real estate veteran who was tapped in February 2020 to oversee a major austerity period that cut several thousand jobs worldwide and reduced the number of office leases.
“The current management team has done an amazing job… through the pandemic. That is not an easy thing,” he said.
Known initially for catering to young freelancers, WeWork has turned its focus more toward companies of over 500 employees looking for space in urban centers.
In response to a suggestion from an audience member that he and co-founder Miguel McKelvey share some of their wealth with former WeWork employees who are “out of their money and out of a job,” Neumann said the pair have thought about it a “tremendous amount” and have taken some action that they are not yet prepared to share. “There’s a lot more in store but it’s all done quietly,” he added.
Neumann said he is now investing through a family office in early- and late-stage ventures, and is interested in cryptocurrencies.
He’s been active in the investing space in Israel and in the US, providing backing to a number of Israeli startups such as mobility and transport platform GoToGlobal, and buying up real estate (Hebrew) in New York.
Neumann’s interview has been viewed over a million times and has thousands of comments, many of them admiring Neumann’s famed natural charisma and his ability to answer tough questions two years after the debacle.
Due to high interest from Israeli viewers, Hebrew subtitles were recently added to the video.
Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.