Adam Neumann turned WeWork into one of the most valuable start-ups in the world largely through the force of his outsize personality. He persuaded investors to give him billions of dollars and employees to believe that the shared-office company was changing the world.
That same mix of ambition and idealism forced Mr. Neumann to step down as chief executive after a lengthy board meeting on Tuesday. He was under pressure from directors and investors after he led a botched attempt to take the closely watched company public. The announcement marked a swift and stunning fall for Mr. Neumann, who had enormous control over WeWork and spoke about the company with missionary zeal — he has said the company aimed to “elevate the world’s consciousness.”
WeWork expanded with breakneck speed in recent years, putting co-working locations in dozens of countries and becoming the largest commercial tenant in Manhattan. It attracted a private valuation of $47 billion as recently as January, with top Wall Street bankers telling Mr. Neumann that his company could be worth a lot more once its shares traded on the stock market.
Mr. Neumann, 40, was the company’s charismatic frontman, a towering, hard-partying Israeli with long hair and a penchant for leather jackets and tequila. He used the company to fund his pet projects, maintained a lavish lifestyle complete with private jets and luxury homes. And Mr. Neumann was highly impulsive — he once banned meat at the company, forcing executives to quickly come up with a rationale for why.
When it came time to list WeWork on the stock market, this all proved too much for the institutional investors who make or break the fortunes of publicly traded companies. After the company filed its offering documents with the Securities and Exchange Commission last month, investors began scrutinizing its business model and Mr. Neumann’s behavior, and sentiment quickly turned against WeWork.
Last week, the company decided to delay its offering after bankers and investors signaled that the company might be worth just $15 billion. Now, with his resignation as chief executive, Mr. Neumann joins an ignominious club that includes Travis Kalanick, who was ousted as the chief of Uber before he could take it public.