Bloomberg — Things have been fairly drama-free at WeWork Inc., at least by the company’s standards, but two separate yet overlapping events could create uncertainty around management of the co-working business.
First, WeWork is effectively without a chairman. Marcelo Claure, the former operating chief at SoftBank Group Corp., had held that position since the Japanese conglomerate rescued WeWork from near-insolvency in 2019. Claure resigned in January from SoftBank, the biggest investor in WeWork, and his former employer still hasn’t named a replacement.
Second, Adam Neumann can legally request his return to the board as an observer as soon as Saturday. That’s the expiration date of a year-long ban from the boardroom that Neumann agreed to as part of a settlement with SoftBank.
Neumann co-founded WeWork in 2010, starting with a novel plan to sublease desks to freelance workers and building a $47 billion lifestyle brand. He hasn’t had a vote on the WeWork board since 2019, when his company’s attempt at an initial public offering failed spectacularly and he was ousted as chief executive officer. Neumann then spent more than a year as a board observer, able to attend the meetings and request information but not influence the group’s decisions.
His removal as an observer came as part of a 2021 agreement to end legal battles with SoftBank related to his exit. To return, he must submit a written request to WeWork, and SoftBank has to approve it. If the Japanese company denies his request, he can propose someone to attend in his place, also subject to SoftBank’s approval. WeWork said this week that it has not yet received a request from Neumann.
At the same time, WeWork’s board has a noticeably empty seat at the table. SoftBank has a list of possible candidates to replace Claure, and the effort is being overseen by Rajeev Misra, the head of SoftBank’s Vision Fund, according to a person familiar with the process who asked not to be identified because the information is private. SoftBank declined to comment.
A WeWork board committee will present recommendations for a new chairman at the next board meeting on March 29 and will likely suggest an existing board member, said another person familiar with the process.
SoftBank has, in addition to the unnamed replacement for Claure, other appointees currently on the WeWork board: Michel Combes, a former Sprint CEO and current SoftBank executive; Kirthiga Reddy, president of Athena SPACs and a former partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers; and Véronique Laury, the former CEO of UK-based retailer Kingfisher. Bruce Dunlevie, a general partner at the venture capital firm Benchmark, is the lead independent director.
The next chairman will have a big job. Since WeWork went public in October, its stock price has been cut in half.