WeWork strikes a debt restructuring deal with SoftBank

Mia Gindis, Opinions Editor

WeWork Inc. announced on March 17 that it struck a deal with key investors to enact a complex recapitalization plan in an effort to boost profitability.

The coworking space provider tapped SoftBank Group Corp. to help reduce the company’s debt by converting $1 billion of unsecured notes into equity, according to a statement from WeWork.

This is not the first time the Japanese conglomerate holding company offered to rescue WeWork from financial uncertainty. SoftBank shelled out upward of $5 billion in 2019 to keep the firm afloat after a botched initial public offering and abrupt leadership change.

The following years were no easier for WeWork due to work-from-home orders and social distancing measures during the COVID-19 pandemic, edging the company into unprofitable territory.

Baruch College alumnus Adam Neumann co-founded WeWork with Miguel McKelvey in 2010 as a shared workspace provider for large corporations, small businesses and individuals.

At WeWork’s conception, venture capitalists largely regarded it as one of the most promising startups of its kind. But the business did not live up to the expectations of Neumann and Masayoshi Son, the founder of SoftBank.

WeWork appointed Sandeep Mathrani, the former CEO of retail giant GGP Inc., as Neumann’s successor in February 2020. Mathrani has since taken strides to revitalize WeWork’s reputation, increase revenue and expand market share.

Under Mathrani’s leadership, WeWork’s occupancy levels rebounded from their lowest point during the peak of the pandemic.

Prior to this result, Mathrani managed to take the company public and implemented measures such as ending leases with less profitable buildings and selling off side businesses.

Still, the enormous blow leveled by the pandemic entailed a wide-scale reduction in demand for office space that rendered WeWork unprofitable. At the time this deal was brokered, the company accrued over $3 billion in debt.

In February, the company predicted it would report a weak fiscal quarter revenue after it announced decisions to close 40 underperforming U.S. locations and cut 300 jobs.

Mathrani initially assured that the company would be profitable by the conclusion of 2021. In a March 17 announcement, WeWork projected that it will turn a core profit this year, aided by cost cuts.

WeWork’s shareholders will hold a vote on the terms of the debt restructuring, and the company will seek approval from bondholders.

After an initial gain on the announcement, shares slipped less than 1% to 97 cents on the morning the deal was struck. The company’s stock has dropped 32% since this time last year.

WeWork shares traded at more than $8 in 2021 after the company went public through a merger with a special purpose acquisition company, indicating a sharp decline in consumer confidence. This transaction seeks to greatly reduce debt by increasing the cash on WeWork’s balance sheet by $290 million and granting the company access to $475 million in new financing commitments.

In a statement, WeWork said it was now “ideally positioned to capture tailwinds of the global shift towards flex from traditional office.” The company also extended about $1.6 billion in debt maturities to August 2027.

WeWork said it will delay filing its annual report to reflect these material transactions in its financial documents and relevant disclosures.