Nathan Abrams finds something fresh in a new book about the co-working startup, WeWork and its founder Adam Neumann.
WeWork was the co-working company started by the charismatic Israeli Adam Neumann which grew into a billion-dollar unicorn. Neumann styled it as a Kabbalistic-infused capitalist kibbutz.
But I did pick up some new tidbits about WeWork from this new book, The Cult of We: WeWork and the Great Startup Delusion, by Wall Street Journal reporters Eliot Brown and Maureen Farrell.
Below is some new Jewish stuff I hadn’t already learned.
In 2017, WeWork was negotiating a giant multi-billion dollar investment from SoftBank, the giant Japanese multinational conglomerate that invests in technology, energy, and financial companies, especially startups. Because SoftBank’s largest investor was the Saudi Arabian royal family, Neumann was asked to pledge not to give any of his proceeds to the Israeli military, because it could be problematic for SoftBank’s Middle Eastern investors.
Neumann told his colleagues about SoftBank’s request (SoftBank denies that it made it). ‘We’re taking toxic money’, Neumann is reported to have said before threatening to walk away from the deal. He had no intention of giving any of his money to Israel’s military but he felt the request was antisemitic.
He was convinced not to walk away on the flight home when a colleague explained that WeWork could take the money and do something positive with it.
‘Neumann would wrestle for months with the implications of taking the money. … Would he be personally responsible for funding the Saudi government and anything negative they might do with it? How can we ever be sure that won’t happen?’ Brown and Farrell write.
In the end, Neumann and WeWork took the money. But he never made any promises about what he’d do with his share.
‘Neumann wanted to create the largest real estate investment firm on the planet – from scratch’, the authors write. To do so, it came up with a new fund that ‘would have a biblical name to meet its biblical-sized ambitions’. It was dubbed the ARK as a deliberate reference to Noah’s ark. Neumann also said that the initials stood for Adam, Rebekah (his wife) and Kids.
As part of his strategy, Neumann devised a policy of triangulation. When he mapped it out, he scrawled an equilateral triangle with light emanating behind it, ‘giving the diagram a secretive, Illuminati-like feel’. But what he wanted to do was to put one of the triangles upside down, lying on top of the other. These interlocking triangles were a Star of David but he was talked out of it.
The Middle East
When he did accept SoftBank’s money, Neumann had huge misgivings about working with the Arab state investment funds because of the dissonance of the pairing of an Israeli founder and the Saudi wealth fund but his advisors including his Jewish ones told him to use it to his advantage.
He got close to Mohammed Bin Salman whom he told that together with Jared Kushner, the three of them were going to remake the Middle East.
He told Walter Isaacson that he wanted him as his future biographer and that not only was he going to broker peace in the Middle East but that the peace treaty would one day be signed in a WeWork. Neumann’s staff did play a small role in The Trump presidency’s attempts at facilitating a new Middle East peace plan.
Neumann relished his proximity to MBS and his vision of a modernized region. Some of Neumann’s staff worried about Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses and treatment of women because it could be a bad look for a company that espoused progressive values. And when journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered and dismembered, Neumann stayed schtum. Unlike others, he didn’t distance himself when the news of Khashoggi’s death spread. Instead, he said that Prince Mohammed just needed better guidance. Who could offer such counsel? he was aked. ‘Me’, Neumann replied.
The Cult of We: WeWork and the Great Startup Delusion by Eliot Brown and Maureen Farrell is published by HarperCollins priced at £20.
*I have taken this title from one of the chapter headings in the book, ‘WeWTF’