A good number of founder-CEOs who have grown startups to billion-dollar valuations have demonstrated strong wills, excesses and eccentric behaviors that have sometimes placed them in conflict with their boards and biggest shareholders.
All this can be tolerated if they are delivering. In the case of former WeWork CEO, Adam Neumann, it was a case of all the negative things with little to no positive.
Neumann had no one to blame but himself, though, as instances of his poor management skills and other personal deficiencies are in plenty. As recently as during the lead up to the IPO, for instance, the former WeWork CEO amply demonstrated that he couldn’t get his priorities right.
At such a critical juncture in the young company’s life, Neumann was vacationing in the Maldives , per The Wall Street Journal. But when required to go over the IPO prospectus before sign-off over the phone, Neumann declined to suspend his vacation, instead preferring to have a junior executive travel all the way to the Maldives to brief him in person.
Neumann also exhibited a complete lack of self-awareness and integrity. While there were many cases of self-dealing by Adam Neumann listed in the prospectus, none were more egregious than trademarking ‘We’ and then selling it to WeWork for $5.9 million.
The ex-WeWork CEO also seems to have been unbounded by reality. While such statements as ‘our mission is to elevate the world’s consciousness’ in the WeWork IPO prospectus may have earned chuckles among investors, bizarre had for long been Neumann’s middle name.
Per The Washington Post, Neumann harbored goals that included attaining immortality ; goals that would have anyone else not named Adam Neumann committed to a mental institution for spouting them:
“His goals are wide-ranging and unbounded by reality — becoming the world’s first trillionaire, taking WeWork to Mars, living forever, being Israel’s prime minister or “president of the world.”
Poor judgment was another character flaw that helped fell Neumann. Last month the Journal reported that Neumann was so negligent that he smoked marijuana on a transatlantic chartered flight . Additionally, some of the marijuana was stashed in the hired jet, supposedly for use on the return flight, putting the plane’s owner at great risk of facing drug trafficking charges.
While no CEO ever gets it right all the time with regards to acquisitions, Neumann failed spectacularly in this department, again demonstrating poor judgment. Nearly all the acquisitions WeWork had made in the last 24 months have been sold in the reorganization that is still taking place, leaving the startup only with its core business.
And despite the endearing image that he cultivated, Neumann seemed to have failed to command loyalty among colleagues and WeWork’s employees. Some rejoiced when he was let go and even questioned his generous $1 billion exit package.
Even more humiliating, Neumann’s personal memorabilia was taken down from his office as soon it was announced he was departing. His luxurious office was also immediately converted into a conference room as his key card access to the office was promptly deactivated. This is despite the fact that he was still the chairman (at the time, and not for long).
Despite all the efforts, there is something that can’t be erased from his tenure at WeWork. In the weeks following WeWork’s scrapping of its IPO, nearly $40 billion in valuation was lost. That will be hard to forget.