Adam Neumann once thought he was King of the World. He rose from modest means as a child of a kibbutz on the southern border with Gaza. He later served in the Israeli navy. But he dropped out of college and then founded two startup ventures which both went belly-up.
But then he conjured the idea that he believed would change the world–he founded a work-share company :
Neumann envisioned WeWork as a “capitalist kibbutz” where members would work, eat, and drink together.
Within a few years, it had gone from a tiny startup with a single SoHo location to 12,500 employees, 500,000 user-clients across 111 cities and 29 countries. The company was flying high with a $47-billion valuation. Along the way, he carved out an extravagant lifestyle for himself. He married a beautiful cousin of Gwyneth Paltrow, had six children, and hobnobbed with the rich and famous:
Neumann was chauffeured around in a $100,000-plus Maybach sedan and traveled the world on a $60 million Gulfstream G650. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, he and his wife, Rebekah Paltrow Neumann—Gwyneth’s first cousin—spent $90 million on a collection of six homes that included a 6000-square-foot Gramercy condo, a 60-acre estate in Westchester County, a pair of Hamptons houses and a $21 million mansion in the Bay Area that features a room shaped like a guitar. They employed a squadron of nannies for their five children, two personal assistants, and a chef. “Adam went through money like water,” a former executive said.
The work evangelist espoused a ‘revolutionary’ approach to the concept, which attracted not only clients but venture capitalists who sunk $12-billion into the company:
Through a combination of egomaniacal glamour and millennial mysticism, the Neumanns sold WeWork not merely as a real estate play. It wasn’t even a tech company (though he said it should be valued as such). It was a movement, complete with its own catechisms (“What is your superpower?” was one). Adam said WeWork existed to “elevate the world’s consciousness.” The company would allow people to “make a life and not just a living.” It was even capable of solving the world’s thorniest problems.
Not surprisingly, Neumann and his wife were attracted to the cultish circle of celebrity Kabbalah popularized by stars like Madonna. His “spiritual mentor” was a rabbi associated with the infamous Kabbalah Center:
…The Neumanns were devout followers of Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical faith, and it infused WeWork’s office culture. One employee said key meetings were often scheduled for the 18th of the month because 18 is a sacred number in Kabbalah’s 32 paths to wisdom. Adam encouraged senior WeWork executives to participate in weekly study sessions with his spiritual adviser at the time, Rabbi Eitan Yardeni.
Among those admitted to the couple’s intimate circle were Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. The two couples had much in common. First, both husbands bonded over their real estate backgrounds:
Per earlier reports, Kushner and Adam Neumann have taken tequila shots – Adam’s drink of choice – and gone head-to-head in an arm wrestling match to settle a minor disagreement. Kushner lost. But Adam Neumann has called the real estate heir a mentor.
“I find Jared to be one of the most sophisticated real estate developers on earth,” he told Bloomberg Businessweek in 2016. “A lot of times when I’m with Jared, I take cues from his behavior just to learn how to act. You know, just to act a little bit better myself because it’s always good to learn.”
Second, they both had ‘mixed marriages’ in which one partner was Jewish and the other was not. Finally, they were both dedicated to their Jewish roots, specifically the State of Israel, Neumann’s native land and the homeland for which the Orthodox Kushner prayed every day.
That’s why it makes perfect sense that Neumann offered to help his pal produce a delusional video which Kushner showcased at his Middle East peace dog and pony show in Bahrain:
…Some WeWork executives were shocked to discover Neumann was working on Jared Kushner’s Mideast peace effort. According to two sources, Neumann assigned WeWork’s director of development, Roni Bahar, to hire an advertising firm to produce a slick video for Kushner that would showcase what an economically transformed West Bank and Gaza would look like. (Bahar told me he only advised on the video and no WeWork resources were used.) Kushner showed a version of the video during his speech at the White House’s peace conference in Bahrain last summer.
The caveat Bahar offered is misleading because as a senior executive of the company, ‘advising’ on production of the video was in fact offering the company’s resources to Kushner’s effort.
Another reason Neumann wanted to help was that his primary investor, Masayoshi Son of Softbank, was himself funded largely by Middle East petrodollars. These would be the same investors attending Kushner’s glittering peace launch. Neumann had a messianic vision of his own personal ability to fix whatever ailed the region:
Neumann told colleagues that he was saving the women of Saudi Arabia by working with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to offer women coding classes, according to a source. In another meeting, Neumann said three people were going to save the world: bin Salman, Jared Kushner, and Neumann.
Buzzfeed’s senior technology reporter actually dug up the Kushner-Neumann video and it’s a sight to behold–and not in a good way:
I think I found the video that WeWork’s Adam Neumann advised Jared Kushner to create in order to promote peace in the Middle East during a June conference in Bahrain.
I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence. pic.twitter.com/mfbasvV17b
— Ryan Mac 🙃 (@RMac18) November 25, 2019
The video is like a cheaper, more tawdry version of Neumann’s own corporate mantra. Full of bluster and boasting; devoid of substance. While the sheikhs at the Bahrain conference might be swimming in petro-wealth, they were no fools. That’s why the audience responds to the video with tepid applause.
One can understand why Neumann and Kushner are kindred souls: they each have a millennial egomaniacal belief in their own “superpowers” to save the world, while barely having a grip on the reality which constrains them. So of course, Neumann was enthusiastic about his friend’s vision to make the Middle East safe for Israel by turning Palestine into an oasis of palm trees and WeWork spaces. They were two delusional guys in way over their heads. Neumann has already crashed and burned. Kushner will eventually when his father-in-law does his own version as a result of the impeachment proceedings and the prospect of a massive drubbing at the polls in 2020.
Kushner’s peace plan has been every bit as nutso as Neuman’s vision of himself and his workplace revolution. The debris each of them will leave behind will be the lives and fortunes of their investors, employees, and the Palestinian people suckered by yet another huckster selling Middle East snake oil. But neither Neumann nor Kushner will suffer personally regardless of their failures: the Israeli entrepreneur walked away with $1-billion in stock, $500-million credit line, and $185-million consulting fee. Kushner can always return to his family’s real estate empire, which he nearly drove into bankruptcy due to his and his father’s own recklessness.