SoftBank turns against WeWork’s parent CEO

NEW YORK: Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp, the biggest investor in WeWork owner The We Company, is exploring ways to replace Adam Neumann as chief executive of the US office-sharing start-up, four people say.
The rare showdown between SoftBank and one of its biggest investments comes after We Company postponed its initial public offering (IPO) last week, following pushback from perspective investors, not just over its widening losses, but also over Neumann’s unusually firm grip on the company.
This was a blow for SoftBank, which was hoping for We Company’s IPO to bolster its profits as it seeks to woo investors for its second $108 billion Vision Fund. It invested in We Company at a $47 billion valuation in January, yet stock market investor scepticism led to the start-up considering a potential valuation in the IPO earlier this month of as low as $10 billion.
What was the venture capital world’s biggest upset is now morphing into one of corporate America’s most high-profile boardroom dramas.
Some We Company board directors are deliberating how to replace Neumann as CEO, the sources said. The exact number of directors opposed to Neumann is not clear. Venture capital firm Benchmark Capital, another big investor in We Company, would also like Neumann to step aside, one of the sources said.
Benchmark, SoftBank and Chinese private equity firm Hony Capital each have one representative on We Company’s seven-member board, that includes Neumann. Hony Capital’s position on whether Neumann should remain CEO could not immediately be learned.
A formally unaffiliated We Company board director, retired Goldman Sachs Group Inc investment banker Mark Schwartz, previously sat on SoftBank’s board.
No challenge to Neumann has yet been tabled, the sources said. A We Company board meeting will be held this week, and the issue of his leadership could be raised then, the sources added.
One option that SoftBank is considering is asking Neumann to become interim CEO while a headhunting firm is hired to find an external replacement, the first source said. — Reuters