With a name like We Company, you'd think the new moniker of WeWork's parent would indicate an expansive vision. Maybe not. Some people have found great amusement reading the company's IPO filing and noting all the hype of and arrangements made for co-founder and CEO Adam Neumann.
No doubt that Neumann has been critical to the success of the company. And, no matter what one's reaction to the structure of the business and the deals it has made, large investors like Softbank and the people who work at We seem fine with everything.
But there are some unique steps the company has taken that do seem to favor and even enrich Neumann to an unusual degree. These make a statement about leadership style and open questions about some choices made. Here are just some:
- Ahead of the IPO, the company paid Neumann $5.9 million for the privilege of using the name "We," according to Business Insider. The CEO had snapped up the rights.
- Neumann cashed out more than $700 million in advance of the IPO through debt and sales of shares in the business, according to the Wall Street Journal. Usually CEOs wait until sometime after the IPO so, in the meantime, they show continued support in the business. This move can read to outsiders as a cynical disbelief in the company, as if the rewards won't otherwise come.
- The S-1 IPO filing with the SEC states that leadership members "are predominantly compensated through equity awards to align their interests with those of our stockholders and reward the creation of long-term value." However, Neumann is part owner in a number of the buildings that WeWork leases rather than buys. So, the companies in which he's an owner or partner make money off the leases and build equity in the properties. Essentially, Neumann is their landlord and has made into the millions, according to the Wall Street Journal.
- WeWork has provided loans to Neumann at times. That can raise questions of whether there are sweetheart interest rate deals and even potentially cause inquiries into whether a "loan" is actually a form of untaxed pay. Even if there is nothing irregular, it can lead to lower morale and attention diverted from running the busines to any inquiries.
- As is true with a number of other companies--Google and Facebook to name a couple--the stock structure will give Neumann absolute voting control, an arrangement that is considered a poor practice in corporate governance.
Any or all of this could become a leadership problem. (A spokesperson said the company declined to comment, which is a normal response in a quiet period before an IPO.)
Of course people get into business to make money. And, of course, companies have to bring in profits to enable the whole economic model.
Real leadership needs something beyond personal gain, however. Its task is to harness the efforts of many and synchronize them with a single set of goals. In addition, each of the individual people has their own interests.
With so many special and unusual considerations and business relationips, the leadership style can begin to look like the great man theory. In that concept, heroic figures naturally take the lead and move things forward. That can create the impression that the person at the top is more important than anyone else
But to move things forward, there has to be a destination. People have to think they're working for a bigger goal and that everyone is pulling together.
With a situation like that of We, the CEO receives special treatment. That may go unnoticed before a company goes public, but once the S-1 is filed, all sorts of things become obvious.
Leadership is more than inspiring speeches, smart strategies, and hard work. It involves creating the atmosphere of something where everyone is in it together. When that image breaks, so can some of the fundamental aspects of leading people.