WeGeneration work, rest and play together in Adam Neumann’s empire

New York entrepreneur has big plans to turn his office rental business into a provider of homes, leisure and education

Adam Neumann is not satisfied with changing the way 210,000 people work and turning himself into a paper multi-billionaire in the process. Neumann, the 38-year-old co-founder and chief executive of shared office provider WeWork, wants to house, teach, train and party with the WeGeneration.

In less than eight years, Neumann, a dyslexic who could not read until he was seven, has turned an idea for a single eco-friendly co-working space in Brooklyn into a $20bn (14bn) company which runs 230 shared office spaces in 71 cities .

The company, which is marketed with the tagline Do What You Love and offers its members free artisan coffee, grapefruit-infused water and a choice of craft beers, has risen to become Londons biggest office occupier.

WeWork has taken space in 21 office buildings in the capital, including eight floors of a block in Moorgate with space for more than 3,000 workers, two buildings in the heart of Soho and an outpost in London Fields which it describes as the epicentre of east Londons creative hotbed.

The company, which was founded by Neumann and his friend Miguel McKelvey in 2010, occupies more than 2.5m sq ft of space in London according to research by Savills, the property consultant. It has opened an office in Manchester and has plans for another in the city, and it is also scouting for locations in Birmingham, Edinburgh and other UK cities.

WeWork owns a small fraction of its estate, instead renting space from traditional landlords which it breaks into smaller offices and communal shared desks. In spite of having very few physical assets, WeWork has attracted investment from Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and Japans SoftBank, which invested $4.4bn last year, valuing WeWork at $20bn.

Masayoshi Son, the chief executive of SoftBank and Japans richest man, said his investment would be cheap if WeWork continued its exponential growth, adding the firm could be worth a few hundred billion dollars. The investment valued Neumanns remaining stake in the privately held company at about $2.5bn.

WeWork will open another 13 locations in London by the end of 2018, including the whole of an office block opposite the Bank of England. For 650 a month, WeWork tenants will be granted access to their desks in One Poultry via the buildings grand staircase which is inspired by the Scala Regia steps entrance to the Vatican.

WeWorks Adam Neumann. Photograph: Chris Floyd for the Observer

Providing a fun and inspiring place to work is just the first step for Neumann, who told a conference of city mayors recently that the influx of people into cities and the rising cost of living meant they have to reinvent how people live. As mayors, as leaders, as CEOs it is our responsibility to set the trend of the future, he said.

Neumann, an Israeli who grew up partly on a kibbutz, claims that each new WeWork office will create 1,000 jobs a year. And we wont just bring you jobs, well bring a place to live, well bring education and this is important well bring corporate America, he said.

WeWork began as a place for the cool kids tech and creative entrepreneurs to bat about ideas over the communal foosball table and pints from the free beer kegs, but now big businesses, including HSBC, Microsoft and InBev, the brewing company, occupy more than 25% of its space.

It is not just about work. WeWork is poised to launch its communal living concept WeLive in London. The company opened the first of its dorm for adults concept in a 200-apartment building in Manhattans financial district in 2016 and expanded to the concept to Crystal City, a suburb of Washington DC.

WeWork executives, who are ditching the Work from the companys name and increasingly refer to the firm as just We, say the WeLive concept is built upon a fundamental belief that we are only as good as the people we surround ourselves with.

WeWork also takes care of its members fitness and relaxation. The company opened its first gym and spa in New York last year and expects to rollout the Rise By We concept to other locations.

The company has bought a stake in Wavegarden, which makes indoor wavepools, sparking speculation that the next WeWork perk might be lunchtime surfing lessons.

There are also parties and events, which are organised by WeWorks community managers. The company says it works with tenants to put on bespoke activities. WeWorks members in Paddington, west London, were this week offered the opportunity to take part in guided meditation, a boxbiz boxing workshop or a candlelight yoga class. If none of that appealed, there was also a jar and fern terrarium workshop on Thursday lunchtime.

The biggest party of the year is WeWork Summer Camp, which the company says is just what it sounds like: a chance for grown-ups of all ages to sleep in tents, share meals in a dining hall, and take part in events from archery to zip lining.

At the first camp, Neumann hosted 300 employees and customers in upstate New York. Last summer, the company flew 2,000 staff to the UK for a party held at Eridge Park, a country estate in East Sussex which was once a deer hunting ground favoured by Henry VIII. Florence + the Machine headlined the show, which cost WeWork members 395 each to attend.

Next on the WeWork agenda is education. This month, the company opened a London arm of its coding academy Flatiron School and pledged 1m in scholarships for women and other groups underrepresented in technology jobs.

Neumanns wife, Rebekah Paltrow Neumann, a cousin of Gwyneth Paltrow, reckons the company has got to start teaching much earlier and is opening a $36,000-a-year kindergarten called WeGrow.

Rebekah, WeWorks chief brand officer and a mother of five with no training in education, says on her website that her superpower is intuition. Rebekah is committed to creating a conscious, educational community that fosters growth in childrens minds, bodies, and souls, unleashing endless happiness, global citizenship, and every childs superpowers, her profile says.

Adam, who runs or skateboards to the companys headquarters in Chelsea, Manhattan, said moving into education was a natural extension of the companys mission to help people Do What You Love. If you really want to change the world, change kids when theyre two, he said.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/money/2018/mar/23/wegeneration-work-rest-and-play-together-in-adam-neumanns-empire

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