Neumann clears out desk at WeWork, finds $450m to Soften the blow

By Elles Houweling

SoftBank’s difficult divorce from WeWork co-founder Adam Neuman has been laid out, detailing an award worth nearly $450m. The payout comes nearly two years after a disastrous attempt by the company to go public and the equally-public ousting of Neumann.

Securities filings from earlier this month show that WeWork gave Neumann an enhanced stock award worth roughly $245m in February, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. This unprecedented benefit wasn’t extended to other early shareholders and hadn’t been previously awarded. The filings also revealed that Neumann received a cash payout of $200m.

The divorce settlement is part of a renegotiation of Neumann’s 2019 exit package when he was forced to step down from the co-working company as chief executive after a failed attempt at an initial public offering (IPO).

At the time, SoftBank had struck a $1.6bn exit package with Neuman, but in April 2020 pulled out of a tender offer for WeWork stock which would have yielded almost $1bn. Neumann and two independent directors sued SoftBank in response, but the two sides settled the dispute in February.

The final agreement, details of which were published by the Wall Street Journal earlier this month, includes a cash payment from SoftBank and its affiliates of more than $105m, almost half of which is expected to cover Neumann’s legal fees.

WeWork’s business model – taking out long-term lease contracts on offices and re-renting them to startups and small businesses under flexible terms – was hit hard during the pandemic. While small businesses cancelled flexible co-working contracts as employees were working from home, WeWork remained committed to its hefty lease payments.

Nevertheless, the company is eyeing another IPO, this time as part of a special-purpose acquisition company (SPAC). These are blank cheque companies that are formed strictly to raise capital through an IPO for the purpose of acquiring an existing company. Such deals come with less scrutiny than traditional IPOs.

In March, the company announced a $9bn merger with BowX Acquisition. The deal is expected to close in the third quarter, putting WeWork on the stock market almost two years after it abandoned plans for an initial float.