(Antfer) #1
◼ TECHNOLOGY Bloomberg Businessweek June 29, 2020

18


PHOTOGRAPH BY AMY LOMBARD FOR BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK

● A former employee
speaks out about the culture
that undid a mega-IPO

WeWork vs. the


Whistleblower


Adam Neumann is used to dealing with conflict.
Last year, when WeWork Cos. botched its initial
public offering, he was forced to resign as chief
executive officer of the company he founded. He’s
also locked in a legal battle with the coworking
startup’s biggest backer, Masayoshi Son.
Back in 2016, things were a bit different. Criticism
of WeWork was rare. When Joanna Strange, a for-
mer employee, found and shared with Bloomberg
internal documents that showed WeWork was fall-
ing far short of its financial goals, WeWork sued her.
She now says the ordeal—which included question-
ing from the FBI—nearly broke her.
Strange’s story shows the lengths to which
WeWork went to stop the spread of damaging
information, years before the company felt the full
force of bad news. She details her experience for
the first time here and in an upcoming episode of
Bloomberg Technology’s new podcast, Foundering.
WeWorkdeclinedtocomment.
Thedocumentsandrecordingsshesharespro-
videaninternalviewoftheembattledcompany
before its cash-flow struggles and runaway
expensesbecametabloidfodder.Inparticular,
heraudiofilesofNeumannspeakingatall-hands
meetings in 2015 and 2016 give a glimpse of the man
behind WeWork’s rapid rise. Listened to now, his
words portend its spectacular crash. He warns new
employees that they might not get credit for their
ideas. He says WeWork pays staff less than they
could get elsewhere because he wants to make sure
people are in jobs “for the right reasons.” (WeWork
did, however, give employees stock options.) He
tells them WeWork is nice to them for the first
30 days,andjust“OK”forthenext30.“Byday61,
you’llknowourtruth,”hesays.
Strange wassortofadoptedintoWeWork.
The42-year-oldmotherofoneworkedinhuman
resourcesat NewYork-based building-design-
software firm Case Inc. In 2015, WeWork acquired
Case, and Strange and her colleagues became
WeWork employees. She still remembers the unset-
tling feeling she had when she attended her first all-
hands meeting—evening gatherings called Thank
God It’s Monday. After an address by Neumann,

attendees would hit a gong and chant “WeWork,
WeWork,” she says.
Once she started her new job, Strange says she
was given a high-level computer password—the
login credentials of a manager a few levels above
her. She was told she could use it to finish tasks
that needed authorization from higher up, but
which she’d been asked to do. It worked across
multiple platforms, including the company’s email

▲ Strange shared
internal documents
that showed WeWork
was falling short of its
financial goals