The business of business is rarely a pleasure, but sometimes it gets very juicy. Last year, the story of WeWork — its improbable rise and totally predictable downfall — was the juiciest: it had everything from a cult-leader, grifter chief exec to a laundry list of downright wild business practices (like leasing property directly from said grifter CEO). And what timing!
The document that sunk ‘em was WeWork’s bonkers S-1 filing, which precedes an initial public offering and which actually began with these utterly meaningless sentences: “We are a community company committed to maximum global impact. Our mission is to elevate the world’s consciousness. We have built a worldwide platform that supports growth, shared experiences and true success.” It is truly wonderful to see an entire company so high on its own farts. But there was something missing — the story of Rebekah Neumann, WeWork’s shadow co-founder and wife of CEO Adam Neumann.
That’s one reason I was so gratified to see writer Moe Tkacik publish a profile of her today, over on Bustle. (The other reason: it is wonderfully unsparing.) It is a wonderful piece of reporting — a write-around, naturally, because Neumann is too smart to provide comment — and it reveals that she was at least some of the reason WeWork failed. Also, it points out that she’s Gwyneth Paltrow’s cousin. (“Rebekah Vicki Paltrow came into the world ensconced in wealth and bad energy,” Tkacik wrote, which is about as succinct a description of a disaffected rich person I can imagine.) She met Adam Neumann through a college friend, who’d met him on a roof.
“Rebekah went on that first date with me,” he would later recall in a Baruch College commencement address on the importance of finding a soulmate, “and within five minutes — now I say five minutes to be nice but it surely took 10 seconds — she looked me straight in the eye and she said, ‘You, my friend, are full of shit. Every single word that comes out of your mouth is fake.’”
What a beautiful start to a beautiful relationship. Tkacik’s profile goes on to describe Rebekah’s interest in the Kabbalah, Jivamukti yoga, and acting; she also helped plan the crazy parties that got people investing in the couple’s Ponzi scheme-esque venture.
Her other jobs included firing people for having “bad energy” when her husband needed to make a reduction in head count. “If WeWork seemed like an heiress yoga instructor’s idea of a company — ‘redefining success to include fulfillment and sharing and generosity,’ is how Rebekah explained it to The School of Greatness — that’s precisely what it was,” Tkacik observes. And that, in the end, seems like it’ll be WeWork’s real legacy.