Co-founder and CEO of WeWork Adam Neumann hosted the Russell Banks CEO Leadership Lecture on Thursday, Sept. 22, in the Newman Vertical Campus. Neumann, an alumnus of Baruch College from the class of 2006, was invited to share his entrepreneurial experience with his alma mater.
Students and faculty members interested in learning more about the billionaire entrepreneur’s success gathered to hear the talk. The event space reached its capacity before Neumann made his way up to the stage. Students who arrived on time were directed to stand along a spot on the curtained wall of the 14th floor since there were no vacant seats.
Neumann is notably known as one of the co-founders of WeWork, a company that rents out workspaces to entrepreneurs and freelance workers. He and Miguel McKelvey co-founded the business that is now worth $16 billion. Neumann himself has earned a net worth of $2.4 billion since WeWork took off globally. WeWork has expanded to many cities worldwide, including Hong Kong, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Shanghai and Tel Aviv. The company accommodates over 30,000 users across its workspaces. Neumann broke the silence of the crowd when he uttered his personal definition of success. “Successful is the person who smiles all day. It’s the person who walks around and when he enters the room, the room lights up. He doesn’t pull the air out of the room, he brings the air back into the room,” he said.
The main lecture officially began when Neumann played a video to introduce his own company. The short clip featured open and versatile office spaces that functioned as anything from a barbershop to an organizational area.
Prior to launching WeWork, Neumann tried his hand at several projects after graduation. He immigrated to the United States at the age of 23 after having served in the Israeli army.
When he finished his undergraduate career at Baruch, Neumann started Crawlers, a company that attached kneepads to clothing for infants to prevent any pain that comes with crawling or falling. In order to globalize the start-up and receive a leg up in the market, Neumann traveled to China with his then-marketing professor, who introduced him to useful contacts in Shanghai.
Manufacturers required that he put down a deposit in order to demonstrate his involvement and commitment to the start-up, but Neumann was unable to provide the funds. He attempted to persuade the manufacturers to supply him financially and back the project without the money, but he was unsuccessful.
Neumann geared this anecdote into an opportunity to divulge a lesson to his enthralled audience members. He explained that no matter what strides he took to try to establish Crawlers as a business, his “sales were always lower than the expenses every month.” He did attribute some of his bad luck to the Great Recession of 2007.
As he confided to his then-girlfriend Rebekah Paltrow, and she advised him to find something that struck passion within him. “Well, the reason you don’t have a lot of money in the bank is because you know nothing about baby clothes and you don’t care about baby clothes. But you look at buildings like some guys look at girls. You like bringing people together. So why don’t you find something that brings those two passions together?” she suggested.
As he carried on with the presentation, Neumann digressed from personal anecdotes into a series of tips, which he refers to as “The Spirituality of Business.” He explained that his success with WeWork stems from solid partnerships and collaborative efforts. Neumann indicated that when one maintains a position of power, one must be careful when telling others what to do, since the idea can have a grandiose effect. As a key leader in the project, Neumann discussed his plan to create a rental space in a building with the landlord who remained unconvinced for six months. After six months elapsed and the landlord realized Neumann’s persistence, he gave him a chance. He then elaborated on the concept of positive cash flow, which is his prime motivator for bringing people together.
His sister’s Instagram feed inspired him to find a new way to bring people together and establish a stronger connection. Neumann explained in another anecdote that his sister had 4,000 followers on the popular social media app, but never interacted with them without a screen as their primary medium of communication.
In order to facilitate a better mode of communication, Neumann advises prospective employers and entrepreneurs to take their clients out on a retreat. He discussed in another video his efforts to rent out a summer camp for one month in order to practice team-building and communication exercises.
4,000 adults attended the summer camp session, during which they played sports and jammed out to music festivals in order to build a culture of camaraderie and closeness between the company and its customers. In the light of the financial crisis, Neumann postulated that humans were more desperate for communication than ever, which is why the idea of sharing workspaces stuck out to him in particular. His tips were generated with the intention of bringing people closer together.
The talk concluded with a question and answer panel, during which students inquired primarily about the architecture and internal mechanics of the buildings. One of Neumann’s colleagues who had been sitting by the stage interjected during this session in order to reveal the intention behind the narrow design of the staircases in the workspaces. The staircases, by design, were intended to facilitate interaction between users who share the space.