The lives of entrepreneurs have always been very intriguing. The series, “WeCrashsed,” introduced us to such eccentric personalities. There was Adam Neumann, the CEO of WeWork, his wife, Rebekah Paltrow Neumann, and his friend and co-founder, Miguel Mckelvey, who were on the path to re-molding the perceptions that people had about the real estate business. WeWork was just a coworking space, but the ideologies of Adam Neumann made it into a way of living. An empire was created, which was backed up by Adam’s showmanship, Rebekah’s philosophies, and Miguel’s hard work. So let’s look into the peculiar personalities of these intriguing individuals and try to understand what it was that worked for them.
Adam Neumann – The Persistent Showman
Adam Neumann was a force of nature. You might call him crazy, but he was a persistent person who didn’t give up unless and until he achieved his goal. He couldn’t take “no” for an answer, which sometimes worked in his favor and sometimes against him. Adam Neumann had an eccentric quality of promising to deliver even without having the necessary resources. He had the confidence that he would be able to create those resources just in time. Adam was persistent with Rebekah Paltrow too. He joined her yoga class and tried his best to woo her. But when that didn’t work, he asked her out on a date. Imagine this: after asking a girl out for several months, she finally agrees, and you reach to meet her without even a single penny in your pocket, still thinking that your proposal would be accepted. It said loads about the man. Any sane man would have been embarrassed beyond his wits and lost all hope. But not our Adam. He stormed into her office the very next day and coerced her boss to increase her salary. Rebekah knew that this was the man she would want to spend her life with. She knew he valued her. Yes, at that time, he was not financially stable, but Rebekah knew that any man with such eccentric qualities could not stay away from success for long. Adam was not hesitant ever to take the favor, because he knew that he had the capability to multiply it ten folds and return it back to the person.
Rebekah’s father gave her a million dollars as a wedding gift to buy a house. Adam persuaded her to use it for his business. There was a possibility that the business would not have given the desired returns, but Adam was not scared to take the risk. He was an optimist who believed that if one could imagine it, then they could achieve it. When he sold off his first venture, Greendesk, and started finding investors, it seemed like nobody wanted to invest in his idea of shared working spaces. But once again, he was persistent and resilient. Bruce Dunlevie from Benchmark Capital was one of the first people who recognized the potential of the man. Bruce, at that time, didn’t know the intricacies of the business and what exactly Adam planned to do with WeWork. But he saw a man who could sell his product. He was a great showman. He could talk and sway you in seconds. He was the kind of man who wouldn’t come back unless and until he finalized the deal.
Adam Neumann never had any space for a second opinion. He did what he felt was right. When Cameron Lautner from Benchmark Capital started questioning his strategies, he started looking for another big investor who believed in him and gave him autonomy to conduct his business. Masayoshi Son, CEO of Softbank, was a good ally to have, but there was always a possibility that if things didn’t work out with him, he had the resources to turn into your biggest nemesis and pave the way for your destruction. Masa believed more in Adam as a person as compared to his business strategies. Masa was a man who bet on the individual rather than the statistical analysis and business model. He liked a person who was ready to plunge into the deep sea without knowing what was there inside.
Adam made a few choices that weakened the foundation of his fortress. The culture of WeWork was such that people were not given the freedom to voice their opinions. It was a one-man show. Even the co-founder, Miguel Mckelvey, didn’t meddle with the decision made by Adam. Adam was told that he was burning huge amounts of resources on tequila parties and all that stuff that didn’t matter, but he kept on with it. Many employees were kept at minimum wages, but steps were not taken to improve that. Professional decisions should never be made based on yardsticks that are biased in nature. Just because Rebekah said that she wanted to be the Chief Branding Officer of the company, Elishia Kennedy, who was a deserving candidate, was removed from her position. What it did was to keep a person who was not aware of her duties at the epicenter. She ran the show without knowing where it was going or what the consequences of her decisions would be. Such small yet important tactical decisions accumulated to become one gigantic mound of bad choices and misplaced priorities.
Adam underestimated everybody, irrespective of their legacy or expertise, and that was one of the main reasons he got ambushed from all sides. He had everything that would have taken WeWork to greater heights, but his overconfidence, not taking criticism very well, not giving room to the opinions of experts, and maybe his assertiveness, led to his downfall.
Rebekah Neumann And Miguel Mckelvey – The Second Fiddles
There was one core difference between the characteristics of Rebekah and Miguel that made their personalities poles apart: one was the most genuine and authentic individual you would ever meet, and the other was so pretentious that it led to the loss of her credibility. Rebekah Neumann was like El Professor from the Spanish Serious Money Heist. She knew it all. Be it strategy, branding, way of living, pranic healing, energy protection, etc., she felt she was somebody who had mastered everything. But it was not so. She was clueless about branding and marketing, which she was made the head of, at WeWork. The problem was that the employees saw through her incapabilities. Rebekah had a problem that she was recognized as Adam’s wife at WeWork. Nobody respected her the way they did Elishia Kennedy. She didn’t have an independent standing in the organization.
She wanted to give herself a lot of importance. She had a separate office and all the other prerequisites in place, but she had no expertise to back it up, and neither was she willing to put her heart and soul into it. In the last episode of WeCrashed, amidst a situation of crisis and chaos, she tells the employee who was handling the PR to stop sending her press briefings as it gave her negative thoughts. She was somebody who would just turn her back, instead of tackling the situation, and go to her safe zone without giving any directions to the people who were looking up to her. These things caused damage to the perceptions that insiders held about the organization. But it was not her fault alone. She was put in the wrong place by Adam, and he should have known it better. He knew that Elishia knew her job, and she was good at it. But maybe he wanted to please his wife and couldn’t say no to her.
It is an undeniable fact that Rebekah was the best partner that Adam could have asked for. She was a caring mother and looked out for the family at all times. Rebekah would have been a great spiritual guru, teaching the meaning and ultimate goal of life, but instead, she desired to be an entrepreneur as she wanted all the fame and applause for herself, but she clearly lacked the knowledge, expertise, and skills.
Miguel and Rebekah were comfortable playing the role of second fiddle. But the desire to gain fame and importance was there in Rebekah and, to some extent, in Miguel too. Miguel was an excellent human being. He knew his job, and was good with numbers, but lacked speaking skills, and I felt he was too introverted to face the public a lot of the time. It was not that he was not given the opportunity to steal the limelight, but he was just too uncomfortable and always handed over the baton to Adam Neumann. Adam disrespected him in one of the board meetings, and at that time, it pinched him. He had been a lone warrior fighting relentlessly from Adam’s side and didn’t deserve such treatment. Miguel was a great friend to have, one who could be trusted and given the responsibility to do the needful. He was somebody who couldn’t function under a lot of pressure. When the stakes were high, and the situation demanded him to think calmly amidst the chaos, he started hyperventilating. But Miguel knew hard work. It was his presentation that got them the deal when they started Greendesk. He was not scared to put in nights and give every ounce of his energy for the welfare of WeWork.
Asking Miguel to be his partner was probably one of the best decisions made by Adam Neumann. Maybe Adam was not able to take WeWork to a pedestal that he would have desired, but surely he got a friend, whose bond and friendship he would cherish for a lifetime.