WeWork and the Charismatic Implosion That Led to Epic Failure
A fascinating new book paints a cautionary tale of Adam Neumann’s incredible rise and the dangers of the messianic leader
I only visited one WeWork office, a co-working space at 33 Irving Pl, in New York City, in 2018. I was there to help judge a technology competition and wondered why this company was meeting in a WeWork office.
I’d heard of WeWork but knew little about it. The buzz around it and the company’s founder Adam Neumann didn’t synch up with what appeared to be a sub-leasing firm. Still, when I walked into the space, I was struck by the number of people milling about the lobby, the crammed-together offices, each with mostly clear glass walls, and clusters of people working as groups or alone, staring into computer screens.
Were these all people from the same company?
I quickly realized as someone pointed me to a conference room with opaque glass sliding doors that these were all different companies. Each tiny office had a company name on the door or something on one of the interior walls. Yet, out in the common space, I noticed people casually interacting and clustering around the snacks. I remember wondering if those were free and, if so, who was supplying them.
This was, I later understood, Adam Neumann’s dream: Working spaces as a social construct. More than just sub-leasing, it was about tiny, powerful business ideas (many of them tech-based) connecting, if not at a strategic level, on a more personal one. The WeWork intent was to erase the line between business and social, to make connections that would help one, perhaps, feed the other.
I’m not saying I felt that sort of inspiration while I was there. In fact, I didn’t understand this ethos until I read The Cult of We: WeWork and the Great Start-Up Delusion (2021, Penguin Random House) by Eliot Brown and Maureen Farrell. (Full disclosure, Farrell and I have known each other for years.)
The book is a fascinating and detailed account of how Neumann and his partner Miguel McKelvey (who quickly faded into the background) built WeWork into a global brand. Heavy on business, but also a rich personality profile of the charismatic…