WeWork’s Adam and Rebekah Neumann: Where Are They Now?
I am sharing this story with you because most people I speak to seem very confused about the outcome of Adam Neumann’s journey with WeWork. After reading this, I once again feel like we are living in a world being led by bullies and dare devils. Maybe it has always been like this but many of us never truly understood it—-LWH
Wall Street Journal reporter Eliot Brown speaks to V.F. about Adam Neumann’s “golden parachute” and what the disgraced tech leader has been up to since his WeWork exit, as depicted in the finale of Apple TV+’s WeCrashed.
BY JULIE MILLER
Apple TV+’s WeCrashed ends its eight-episode run on Friday, with Adam Neumann (played by Jared Leto) exiting WeWork with his storied “golden parachute” deal. The astonishing exit package was estimated to be worth over $1 billion—even though the company, under his leadership, lost roughly $40 billion of its $47 billion valuation, withdrew its IPO, and screwed over employees hoping valuable stock shares would offset long hours and alarming office culture. (It later went public through an SPAC.)
This infuriating exit is eased, to WeCrashed viewers at least, by a coda sequence in the finale episode, “The One With All the Money.” After a few moments of beach bliss with wife Rebekah (Anne Hathaway) on the Dead Sea in Israel, Adam jumps into the water. Rebekah accepts a call on Adam’s phone from SoftBank chief executive Masayoshi Son (Kim Eui-sung) and takes a message.
“You will never get that buyout package. Not a single penny,” the billionaire investor tells him. “The next time we speak, it will be through lawyers.”
Clearly, this fictional flourish was added for comic—or even audience-consoling—purposes. But did Adam and Rebekah—these flamboyant, entitled, polarizing characters onscreen and off—get any kind of kiss-off from the financial community?
To find answers, we turn to Eliot Brown, the Wall Street Journal reporter who coauthored The Cult of We: WeWork, Adam Neumann, and the Great Startup Delusion along with Maureen Farrell. In 2019, it was Brown who exposed the absurd details about WeWork in a bombshell feature for The Wall Street Journal.
How did he feel about the Dead Sea conclusion, especially considering his expertise in all things Adam and Rebekah Neumann? “I was laughing hysterically, and I thought that was a fantastic way to end [the show],” Brown tells Vanity Fair. That said, he doubts the scene is factually accurate. “To the extent that the phone call ever happened, I seriously doubt it. First of all, they were in New York at the time. Second of all, I think it was more the type of thing that they found out through lawyers and/or The Wall Street Journal.”
The Neumanns’ real-life public kiss-off, if you want to call it that, wasn’t nearly as direct or theatrical. In early 2020, Brown reported that SoftBank was taking steps to back out of Adam’s exit deal. Adam sued SoftBank, before reaching a settlement with the Japanese firm that reportedly awarded him 50% of what was initially offered—leaving Adam with $480 million instead of $960 million, $50 million for legal fees, another $50 million for a noncompete fee, and a five-year extension on a $430 million loan.
“When they settled, Adam did well, maybe even better in the end, even though the rest of the shareholders did worse,” says Brown. “Which is really a perfect coda for how much Adam put me over we,as he would call it. In the end, [Adam and Rebekah] got an enormous amount of that money.” (Per Brown and Farrell’s reporting, SoftBank renegotiated to clear the way for a public offering.)
Factoring in the couple’s real-estate investments, Brown adds, “Adam left [WeWork] a billionaire. Compared to some of the other founders on other streaming service tech shows right now, that’s a very different ending.”
After relocating to Israel for a period after the Neumanns’ WeWork exit, the family returned to the Hamptons, where Adam proceeded to negotiate an even better deal for himself with SoftBank. The Neumanns laid low during the pandemic, save for one Hamptons sighting of Adam barefoot, holding a pizza box, and standing next to a rabbi.
This past October, WeWork finally went public—and Adam celebrated by hosting what the New York Post described as “a booze-soaked party for more than 100 of his earliest employees.” Champagne was served as early as 9 a.m. One Post source added, “The irony is not lost on the fact that they are inviting former employees who got no money from the company they nearly destroyed, and in some cases, some who were laid off after the last IPO attempt. And it is day drinking just like the olden days.”
Meanwhile, according to Brown, Adam “bought an outrageously large house in Florida, which happens to have no capital gains tax, and has been spending a lot of time down there. On the investment side, he has been telling people he wants to build apartments for the future of living. So what that means exactly is a little unclear, but he’s literally buying apartment buildings. Does he think he can build it into a business that gets a tech valuation? I don’t know, but he certainly thinks he can build it into a big business. He’s investing in crypto companies, he’s investing in prop-tech companies.”
“You get the sense from people around him that he has not changed,” Brown adds. “Early on, I think some of his friends sensed a large amount of remorse and that he had gotten really subdued. But if you talk to those people now, I think they would say that was a fleeting moment.” Referring to Adam’s first public interview since leaving WeWork, last November, Brown said, “If you look at the New York Timesinterview, he didn’t apologize. And I know that stung a lot of former WeWork staffers a lot.”
So what are we, aghast witnesses and WeCrashed audience members, supposed to learn from this tale of a barefoot man who became a billionaire by preaching togetherness while simultaneously screwing over his employees?
“His approach was the right one for capitalistic gain,” levels Brown. “He enriched himself tremendously, at the expense of a lot of investors and employees, and he played that very well. I think the broader lesson, which is sort of the focal point of our book, was that the Silicon Valley start-up machine is really irrational or certainly prone to being extremely irrational…. You had literally more money than had ever gone into any start-up besides Uber going into a midsize office-space sublease company, because everyone thought it was some transformative tech company…. I think it’s easy to lose track of reality, particularly in Silicon Valley, and that’s what propelled this entire story.”