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WeWork founder Adam Neumann ‘had tequila-fueled leadership style’

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The founder of WeWork ordered a staggering amount of alcohol for himself during a three-day staff party to celebrate the company being valued at $35bn, a new book reveals.

Adam Neumann, the former chief executive of the office sharing company, ordered 12 cases of Don Julio 1942 tequila that costs $140 for a single bottle, for him and his wife Rebekah.

The 41-year-old also ordered 216 bottles of beer, 48 bottles of wine and two bottles of Highland Park’s 30-year-old single-malt Scotch whisky, that cost $1,000 each.

The party in London for 8,000 employees including performances by Lorde, meditation by a lake, beatboxing workshops and motivational speeches by Deepak Chopra.

The largesse at the camp was only trumped by the outrageous amount of alcohol Neumann ordered for himself.

He gave his staff a three-and-a-half page rider for which demanded a tent with A/C and heating – while the rest of staff slept on air mattresses.

Adam Neumann, the former chief executive of the office sharing company, threw a three-day staff party to celebrate the company being valued at $35billion. A new book reveals, Neumann ordered 12 cases of Don Julio 1942 tequila which costs $140 for a single bottle. He’s pictured with his wife Rebekah in 2009

Neumann’s tequila-fueled leadership style – where dance parties were more common than meetings – helped the company become one of the hottest tech startups. He’s pictured at a WeWork launch party in 2015

Neumann wasn’t just the founder of WeWork, he was its ‘partyer in chief’ writes Reeves Wiedeman in Billion Dollar Loser: The Epic Rise and Fall of WeWork. 

His tequila-fueled leadership style – where dance parties were more common than meetings – helped the company become one of the hottest tech startups on the planet.

At its peak it had coworking spaces in more than 110 cities in 29 countries with a valuation of $47billion.

Neumann was put on a par with the likes of Steve Jobs as a Silicon Valley innovator who would change the world.

But WeWork’s planned flotation on the stock market stalled and investors soured on the company, causing its value to plummet to just $10billion.

Neumann wasn’t just the founder of WeWork, he was its ‘partyer in chief’ writes Reeves Wiedeman in ‘Billion Dollar Loser: The Epic Rise and Fall of WeWork’

Last October Neumann agreed to leave the company after its Japanese investors SoftBank bought $1billion of stock from him to get him out.

Billion Dollar Loser charts how Neumann drove its growth through salesmanship rather than talent.

He was born in the remote city of Beersheba in Israel to two doctors and arrived in New York at age 22 having led a nomadic life and overcoming his childhood dyslexia.

His early startup ideas were flops and included baby clothes with knee pads to make crawling more comfortable called Krawlers.

In 2008 when Neumann was just 29 he and his friend Miguel McKelvey founded co-working space film Greendesk and it took off.

Billion Dollar Loser says that it was largely due to Neumann’s skill as portraying himself as a tech visionary, when in fact he was just leasing office space.

New York real estate developer Joel Schreiber gave Neumann $15million for a third of WeWork, his successor to Greendesk, after hearing a pitch even though the company didn’t exist yet.

He was lured in by Neumann’s fluency in Silicon Valley sales speak and in one interview, the entrepreneur said: ‘The ’90s and early 2000s were the ‘I’ decade – iPhone, the iPod.

‘The next decade is the ‘We’ decade. If you look closely, we’re already in a revolution’.

Customers were called ‘members’ and during one Halloween party there was a performance by rapper Busta Rhymes.

Neumann claimed in another interview that WeWork was a ‘feeling…it can’t be touched’.

Such language became the ‘primary recruiting tool’ for investors who poured in millions and by 2014 WeWork was the fastest growing office space leasing company in New York.

Wiedman writes that Neumann attached his company ‘to the fire hose of cheap capital that washed over entrepreneurs (claiming to) harness the power of technology – no need to say exactly which one – to disrupt a new industry’.

His tequila-fueled leadership style – where dance parties were more common than meetings – helped the company become one of the hottest tech startups in the world

A WeWork employee accused the company of fostering a ‘frat house’ work environment through alcohol-heavy events and mandated weekly happy hours. A company event in 2016 is shown above

Using coworking spaces became a hot trend and companies like Reddit moved in as the company expanded to American cities San Francisco before moving abroad to places like London.

But Neumann’s lack of tech knowledge started to become a problem and he didn’t know how to code and ‘barely used a computer at all’, the book says.

When an assistant told him about an email from a partner at Silicon Valley venture capital firm Benchmark, Neumann said: ‘Is that supposed to mean something to me?’

The party culture began to take over and in 2014 a staffer noticed that the game room of the WeWork office in Washington was covered in garbage and stank of weed.

In 2008 when Neumann was just 29 he and his friend Miguel McKelvey (pictured) founded co-working space film Greendesk and it took off

Rather than errant employees, a review of the CCTV revealed that Neumann had caused the damage by staying up all night and playing video games with another executive – and staff had to clean it up.

Still, the investors kept pouring their money in and Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase handed Neumann millions.

By this point Neumann was presenting himself as a ‘millennial prophet for a new way of working and living’.

But former staff remembered a darker side to a man who walked through the office barefoot and would jump on people’s desks and conference tables and yell.

Neumann would blare music at party volumes and scream at anyone who asked for it to be turned down, ex-employees have claimed.

He demanded that cases of Don Julio 1942 tequila were at every office and would ‘lose his s***’ if they were not there.

Staff said that he would schedule meetings for 2am and then turn up 45 minutes late.

Employees who quit say in the book it was like ‘escaping (cults like) Jonestown or Waco’ – and there were always new believers to take their place.

The party in August 2018 to celebrate the $35billion valuation which put them as worth more than Airbnb was the most extravagant of them all.

Around 8,000 WeWork staff and their families arrived just outside for the three day event called Summer Camp, which had become an annual and lavish WeWork tradition.

He demanded that cases of Don Julio 1942 tequila were at every office and would ‘lose his s***’ if they were not there, the book claims

Neumann is pictured with his wife Rebekah in 2018

While most staff slept on air mattresses in tents, Neumann and McKelvey, his co-founder, were the ones really being pampered.

McKelvey had a one page long rider of demands for his campsite including a fire pit, Popchips and a weekend’s supply of beer, wine and coconut water.

Neumann’s rider ran to three and a half pages and he and Rebekah got a tent house with its own heating and a king bed with several fridges and eight picnic tables.

There was a shuttle bus for them, a Signature Range Rover and a Mercedes V Class at their disposal, two ‘dedicated’ bartenders and two platters of fresh fruit each day along with 400 plastic shot glasses.

The couple demanded three buggies for their children – they had to be dinosaur themed – four LaCroix lime six packs, dairy free oatmeal packets, dates – the list went on.

The list of alcohol for their personal consumption included one bottle of 17 year old Japanese Hibiki whiskey, which costs $729.

The couple had already flown in on the new WeWork $60million gulfstream jet meaning they arrived in luxury.

Wiedman says that the cost of alcohol at the event ‘could have covered most of an entry-level WeWork salary’.

In fact the poor wages at WeWork were a source of anger among staff, not least as Neumann bragged about how little he paid his staff.

They were supposed to use a ‘sense of purpose’ and free beer to pay their bills, the book says.

Even tenants began to get fed up with this attitude and when The Guardian moved into a WeWork space they found there were ‘constant celebrations’ that put them off.

Wiedeman writes that Neumann was often ‘giving rousing speeches in the open atrium’ with ‘WeWork employees fawning over their boss as if they were disciples pledging fealty to a fiery preacher’.

During one party – which was fueled by shots of tequila – a Guardian journalist screamed at the WeWork staff to be quiet.

Neumann screamed back: ‘You shut up!’ and turned up the music as he egged his staff on to keep dancing, ‘stacking his hands on top of each other as if he were building a tower of dollar bills’.

Former WeWork executive Ruby Anaya, 33, sued the company after she claimed she was fired for reporting sexual assaults by two male colleagues at work events

From an early age Neumann had shown prodigious talent – and a gift for being divisive.

When he was a teenager his driving instructor supposedly said: ‘Either Adam will end up in jail or he’ll become a millionaire’.

Neumann’s office suites were absurd even by the standards of Silicon Valley bosses.

In the early days he had a punching bag, a gong and a bar – later he had a private bathroom with a sauna and a cold-plunge tub at his office in New York.

Employees were expected to work horrendously long hours and one recalled joking: ‘Half day?’ to a colleague who left at 6pm. 

Neumann’s whims extended to spraying potential investors with the fire extinguisher, and abruptly banning meat from the company.

The payoff to keep them happy would be happy hours celebrating things like the final season of the TV show Game of Thrones

By the time Neumann was forced out, WeWork was the largest office tenant in New York and the second in London only to Her Majesty’s government.

Yet Neumann’s ambitions were far larger than that and he was imagining WeBank, WeSail – the company rebranded as the We Company to reflect its new goals

WeGrow was an elementary school with annual tuition of $42,000 and the person who took charge of it was Rebekah, who is the cousin of actress Gwyneth Paltrow.

Each day began with teachers playing ukuleles followed by a 25 minute meditation, yet the public were not convinced and the New York Post asked: ‘Is this NYC’s most obnoxious elementary school?’

The lack of diversity at WeWork became more of a problem and when a woman finally joined the engineering staff they had to rewrite the underlying code because they had described a reddish color in the design as ‘hooker’s blood’.

Once when asked about the lack of women at the company, Neumann said: ‘Diversity? I’m a brunette, Michael’s blond and we have Noah’, referring to two other employees, the latter of which was gay.

In 2018 Ruby Anaya, a former WeWork employee, filed a lawsuit saying she had been sexually harassed at company events.

She accused them of operating a ‘frat-boy culture’ that allowed alleged assaults like a male co-worker forcibly kissing her.

Soon after another former staffer, Richard Markel, 62, filed a lawsuit alleged he was forced out due to age discrimination. WeWork vowed to fight all the allegations.

WeWork hysteria reached its peak in 2017 when SoftBank invested $4.4billion in the company and Neumann declared its worth was based ‘more on our energy and spirituality’ than revenue.

He mused: ‘We are here in order to change the world – nothing less than that interests me’.

Neumann even talked about being the President of the United States, once joking he could be ‘President of the world’.

The dream came crashing down last year when WeWork filed for its initial public offering which forced it to open up its finances to scrutiny.

That revealed huge black holes in its balance sheet and the company’s valuation plunged from $47billion to $10billion and the floatation was put on hold indefinitely.

In addition to buying $1billion of stock from Neumann, SoftBank agreed to pay him a $185m consulting fee to get him out, but they later refused to pay it amid outrage from staff and its own executives.

Experts called his golden parachute ‘stone-cold crazy’ but it showed that even being a $1billion loser, Neumann had cashed out and got rich.

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