- Rebekah and Adam Neumann cofounded WeWork. After the startup’s downfall last summer, and Adam’s departure as CEO, the pair moved to Israel to escape media scrutiny.
- Rebekah Neumann has been described as a powerful influence on both WeWork and her husband.
- Despite genuinely wanting to do good for mankind, Rebekah lavished in the billionaire lifestyle, even flying her hairdresser to WeWork’s London Summer Camp one year.
- Rebekah’s parents gifted her $1 million when she married Adam to buy a home; instead, she used the money to invest in WeWork.
- She was the driving force behind the company’s controversial S-1 documents and obsessed with how she and Adam could brand themselves via WeWork’s IPO.
- Sources say Rebekah and Adam aren’t done yet and negotiated use of the penthouse at the 430 Park Avenue WeWork for their family office.
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First they were rumored to be hiding out in the Hamptons. Then it was St. Barths. In mid-December the New York Post reported that they were bouncing around the world on private jets, cavorting in South Africa and Israel with an entourage of family, nannies, a housekeeper, and security.
Now a close friend of Adam and Rebekah Neumann confirms that the couple, who cofounded WeWork with Miguel McKelvey, has made a temporary move to Israel.
“It was all too much for them,” said Mandie Erickson of Adam and Rebekah’s unceremonious ousting from the office-sharing startup in September. The New York-based publicist had met the couple at the Kabbalah Centre in midtown Manhattan in 2008.
“I just think it was too much mishegoss,” she said, using the Yiddish word for “craziness.” “Adam is from Israel. It’s all over the media and a hot topic here. There, it’s not such a big deal. It became so much of a media sensation, they just wanted to get out, so they went back to his home. It was a change of atmosphere.”
A source close to the Neumanns confirmed the family is currently residing in Tel Aviv, where their children are enrolled full-time in school there. “They are coming back to New York in a few months,” said the Neumann source.
It’s no surprise that Adam, 40, and Rebekah, 41, may be looking for a fresh start. Ever since founding WeWork in 2010, Adam reigned as the golden boy of New York’s tech scene. This time last year, the company was valued at $47 billion and the Neumanns were living the high life, bopping among their impressive $90 million inventory of homes, including a San Francisco mansion with a guitar-shaped living room.
But about five months ago, everything changed when Adam and Rebekah were pushed out of WeWork amid reports of his rampant partying, questionable leadership, and an IPO that was deteriorating in real time.
While Adam became synonymous with WeWork’s downfall, less has been written about his wife of eleven years and equally ambitious business partner, the 5-foot-9, thin-pin, dark-maned Rebekah Neumann.
A onetime actress with family ties to Hollywood royalty and a spiritual bent, Rebekah was, according to some insiders, an unpredictable and unmistakable presence in the organization.
Even as she served as her husband’s “strategic thought partner,” as dubbed in the company’s S-1 documents — tempering his wildest personal and professional urges and quietly working to keep him out of trouble — Rebekah also steered WeWork into risky ventures like a $40,000-a-year for-profit private school that pushed the company well beyond its depths.
By many accounts, Rebekah was driven by a genuine desire to be a positive force in business. But, for some sources with whom Business Insider spoke, the message seems to have been distorted by an obsession with an image and lifestyle that struck many of her associates as out of touch. In the months leading up to WeWork’s planned public offering, Rebekah emerged as a Lady Macbeth-type character, pulling strings behind the scenes to make sure she and Adam came out of the IPO branded as socially conscious eco-warriors who happened to be billionaires, a script that now lies in tatters.
Business Insider spoke with 20 people close to the Neumanns and WeWork, many of whom asked to remain anonymous for professional and personal reasons, to better understand the intriguing other half of the husband-and-wife team who transformed a simple office-subleasing concept into a global phenomenon.
“Rebekah and Adam were a package deal,” a former WeWork executive said.
While Adam founded the company with McKelvey, Rebekah’s influence was omnipresent.
“She spotted the potential in Adam and channeled it in a way that made him incredibly successful,” the former executive said. “Adam was sort of wayward before, a failed entrepreneur slash party boy. Whatever it was she saw in him was incredibly productive. Arguably, she harnessed it to such a degree that it went too far.”
Business, Buddhism, and the Paltrow connection
Before WeWork went big, Adam Neumann had a number of startup flops, including a collapsible-heel shoe and a line of baby clothes with kneepads called Krawlers. When Adam finally appeared to have his first hit with WeWork, Rebekah, with whom Adam has five children, was still trying to find her place professionally.
A New York native who grew up in Bedford and Great Neck, Rebekah attended the elite Horace Mann prep school and graduated from Cornell University, where she studied business and Buddhism. That combination led to stints as a trader at the Wall Street firm Salomon Smith Barney, a yoga instructor, and an actor (she once appeared on an episode of the MTV prank show “Punk’d”).
Raphael Sacks, an actor who played Rebekah’s lover in a 2010 performance of Anton Chekhov’s “Three Sisters,” said Rebekah was very focused onstage.
“I remember there was a real dark edge to the way that we played this sort of affair story,” Sacks said of his role alongside Rebekah. “She brought a lot of raw emotion to the process.”
Acting may have come naturally to Rebekah, who, until her 2008 marriage, was Rebekah Paltrow, a first cousin of the actress Gwyneth Paltrow. A college source said Rebekah was quick to tout the connection.
During the sorority-rush period, the college source said that within two minutes of meeting her Delta Gamma sister, Rebekah “sort of waved her hand and said, ‘Yes, Gwyneth is my cousin. Yes, I know Brad. Yes, we are close. And I am going to the wedding. Next!’ That’s a direct quote. My sorority sister was aghast.”
Authenticity and flying hairdressers
Rebekah, known as “Rebby” to close friends, was, according to the same college source, eventually blacklisted from Cornell’s top sororities after several houses — which “she deemed not worthy of her time” — accused her of hiding in the bathroom during the introduction portion of the visits.
“This had never happened before,” the college source said. “There was a special meeting to discuss it.” The source added that Rebekah eventually got tapped by Kappa Kappa Gamma, which had open spots at the end of rush.
Despite the controversy, Rebekah had a “magnetic effect,” said the college source, especially when it came to the popular men on campus. She dated Brian Hallisay, who’s now married to the actress Jennifer Love Hewitt.
“She could be captivating and had the capacity to be very sweet and funny when she wanted to be,” the college source said. “You were either someone she thought was worth her time or someone she didn’t. And if she deemed you worthy, she could be a lot of fun.”
The Neumann source disputes this characterization, stating that, “Rebecca is an empathetic person and she will connect with every person who tries to connect with her and will make you feel as comfortable as she can.”
Yet, years later at WeWork, Rebekah’s perceived double-sided personality remained a defining trait to some.
“There’s a lot of authenticity to Rebekah,” said one WeWork insider who worked closely with Adam. “She’s very intuitive and very real. She really wanted to raise the world’s consciousness. But at the same time, she had a bunch of nannies and [admirers] and a private jet and billions of dollars, and it got to her.”
The former executive said that despite Rebekah’s plans to save the rainforest, she lavished in the billionaire lifestyle, hobnobbing with celebrities such as Lucy Liu, Jessica Seinfeld, and Karlie Kloss, and even flying her hairdresser to London for the company’s 2018 summer camp.
“She makes her hairdresser go out to the Hamptons for a quick trim,” added the former executive. “Kosher chefs and security go everywhere with them.”
‘Helping men manifest their calling’
Rebekah’s effect on Adam Neumann was noticeable from the moment they were introduced in 2007 by Rebekah’s Cornell friend, Andrew Finkelstein, now a Hollywood power agent. Adam, a onetime chain smoker, credits Rebekah with getting him to quit and devoting himself to pursuing passions before riches.
In an interview with Business Insider in May 2019, Adam said that within 30 days of meeting Rebekah she told him: “You don’t get it. You don’t get the game of life.”
“She told me she thought success was being surrounded by people who you care for and who care for you, actually creating an impact on this planet, enjoying the ride, and really enjoy every moment of it,” Adam said. “Otherwise it’s not worth doing.” He married Rebekah at designer Donna Karan’s Urban Zen Center in New York’s Greenwich Village.
Rebekah is not shy about the influence she’s had on her husband. “A big part of being a woman is to help men manifest their calling in life,” she said at WeWork’s summer camp in 2018.
But to those at WeWork in the early days, Rebekah’s involvement in the company was not obvious.
“We saw her infrequently in the first few offices, and only as Adam’s wife,” said a former community manager. “I don’t think anyone even knew she invested in it.”
(A source close to Rebekah told Business Insider that Rebekah’s parents gifted each of their children $1 million to buy a home once married; she opted to invest the money in WeWork instead.)
Sacks said they even used an unrenovated portion of WeWork SoHo as a a “warehouse/performance/rehearsal space” for their play, “Three Sisters.”
“She was always starting little micro things,” said the former community manager.
The Neumann source says Rebekah was a huge part of the company from the very beginning: “She was doing whatever was needed. There weren’t official positions early on.”
An obsession with details, and Wi-Fi
It was only once the company became more successful that Rebekah’s profile rose. She collected a variety of titles, including chief brand and impact officer, CEO of the WeGrow school, and, in 2019, to the surprise of some employees, WeWork cofounder.
A former colleague credits Rebekah with creating the voice and vision of WeWork, whose mantra is, “Do What You Love.”
“Those slogans and the font and all those things that were really the trademark of WeWork, that was all her,” said the former colleague.
While she might have been content behind the scenes at one point, a media source who worked with the Neumanns before the IPO said Rebekah was “very focused” on what her title would be in the offering prospectus, or S-1 documents, and it “being deserved and appropriate.”
“She wanted to make sure other people would not dispel that,” the media source said, adding that Rebekah saw the IPO as an opportunity to brand herself and her family.
“There was an air to both of them, a little bit of the born-again religious thing, and they viewed the S-1 almost on the messianic scale, that they were on a mission to save the world,” the media source said.
According to the source, marketing consultant Jonathan Mildenhall created a presentation tied to the IPO highlighting “what type of personalities Rebekah and Adam are.”
“It was so bizarre,” the media source said, noting that it was “very touchy feely.”
“This was a serious business and the language they were trying to use was very mystical and it didn’t jive with the tone and character you’d expect in a business environment.”
Rebekah’s style and eccentricities grated on some of those who worked with her. Because of preference for all-white technology, for example, staffers disassembled the landline phone on her desk, painted it white, and rebuilt it, as Business Insider reported.
“She would be tyrannical in the sense of making extraordinary demands,” according to the former executive, who said Rebekah was preoccupied with looking good on Instagram. “She was super obsessed with details and design, and she would blow up at people if it was wrong,” the WeWork insider added.
WeWork staffers were often pressed into service to troubleshoot or install tech products at the Neumanns’ homes, a task exacerbated by what one former assistant described as Rebekah’s fear of electromagnetic emissions from Wi-Fi and other wireless technology.
A phone antenna outside the couple’s Gramercy townhouse was a particular source of concern to her, the former executive said. “She wanted it removed because of phone tapping and brain cancer and all this shit,” the former executive said. “She sent some members of her team to get it removed through political channels.”
High-ranking colleagues told The Wall Street Journal that Rebekah let her gut guide her, to the extreme. She has “ordered multiple employees fired after meeting them for just minutes, telling staff she didn’t like their energy,” the paper reported in September.
The WeWork insider added that Rebekah truly believed her superhero power to be her intuition, even declaring it so on an older version of the WeGrow site.
“She is very ‘Steve Jobs’ in that she can see how this person is not right for the company and get rid of them,” said the WeWork insider. “It was a very scary thing.”
‘The voice of reason’
In an email to Business Insider, Mildenhall expressed concerns that Rebekah’s influence was too easily dismissed.
“Her balance to Adam is both powerful and valuable,” Mildenhall wrote. “That said, today’s ongoing gender biases mean that she is rarely given credit for her independent contribution and vision.”
A number of sources agreed that Rebekah was “the voice of reason,” as the WeWork insider noted, when it came to mitigating her husband’s most outlandish ideas, which at one point reportedly included creating a WeWork Mars.
“She definitely had the power to stop Adam from executing some ideas and stopping and feeling [what’s in] his heart,” said Dechen Karl Thurman, Rebekah’s Jivamukti hot-yoga teacher and friend, who was flown out on a private plane to accompany her at WeWork’s 2016 summer camp in the Adirondacks.
A former employee says she would often veto Adam’s more far-fetched ideas. “Also when you needed to get things to him or were having a tough time getting him to focus, she could get it done,” said the former employee. “She was his gatekeeper.”
And given Adam’s penchant for partying — it was reported he shattered the glass wall to his office during a late-night celebration — Rebekah’s protective instincts could sometimes run to extremes, according to sources.
“Rebekah wanted to protect Adam,” the WeWork insider said. “When you’re married to someone like him, you need to make sure he’s not in situations that you will later regret.”
The idea was ‘ill-conceived, and she was ill-prepared to do it’
At times, it was Rebekah’s actions that caused the problems.
Rebekah, who hasn’t eaten meat since she was twelve, was behind the now-infamous companywide meat ban, according to the former executive.
“Rebekah was in Israel [with the team]…and suddenly the next day meat was banned. In the grand scheme of things it wasn’t a stupid idea. There was an element of it that was pushing the envelope in a good way,” said the former executive.
But the well-intended move sparked an internal crisis as upset staffers retaliated by expensing Michelin-starred vegetarian meals. Adam himself was spotted eating meat after the announcement.
In another blunder, a former engineer recalls the collective raised eyebrow after Rebekah announced she was launching WeGrow in 2017 because she couldn’t find suitable education options for her five children.
“Rebekah came onstage and started talking about how public schools were — in so many words — ruining children,” the engineer said. “She said WeGrow would cost $35,000 to $40,000 per student. You’re announcing this in a room where most of your employees would not be able to afford a school like that … it caused a big ruckus in the company.”
Originally, Rebekah envisioned WeGrow, described as a “conscious entrepreneurial school” for children ages 2 to 11, as an offshoot of the Chabad home school her own children attended. “But then more money came in, and Adam got wowed by the whole thing and really wanted to go all in,” the former executive said.
“The idea of it initially was ill-conceived, and she was ill-prepared to do it. To her credit, she isn’t a dummy. She got smart people around her to help her get there,” the former executive said, adding that staffers had to temper Rebekah’s desire to go global with WeGrow immediately after launching the Chelsea school.
Niva Benzino, who currently has two children at WeGrow, says a number of parents were angered when Rebekah mandated that nannies doing pick-up were not allowed to linger in the school’s luxe lounge, complete with flavored water and surfer Laird Hamilton’s organic coffee.
“Could you imagine building a school with this beautiful lounge and all of a sudden all the caretakers are hanging out there for hours?” asked Benzino. “You have to know the limitations and unfortunately, Rebekah had to put them in place and she herself was probably surprised it was something she had to mention: ‘Hey, don’t wait an hour and a half [in the lounge] for your next kid to come out.'”
“Some of the parents thought she was discriminating against the nannies,” said Benzino, who said she asked her own nanny to wait at the public library next door. “But it was ridiculous.”
Despite the splattering of bad press, former WeGrow teacher, Moira Fahima, says the school was a selfless endeavor for Rebekah, who was highly involved and in constant communication with the staff.
“The students would grow the vegetables and sell them and then donate the money somewhere. I thought WeGrow was a dream and when I met Rebekah, I realized how real it was and how she really meant what she was saying,” said Fahima.
“I never saw a school put so much into mindfulness with children and teachers,” she added, pointing to the daily 30 minute meditation sessions in which teachers partook before meeting with their students.
The Neumann source adds that WeGrow was about to become profitable next year and that the operating costs of the school were very low.
Still, as investors looked over WeWork’s financials in the lead-up to the IPO in late 2019, the school stood out as a key example of the company’s lack of focus and tendency to indulge in passion projects.
“A lot of people thought it was a distraction [from the greater company’s goals],” said the former employee.
In October, WeWork announced that WeGrow would shut down the following June.
A genuine mission clouded by entitlement
A number of people Business Insider spoke with maintained that Rebekah sought to use WeWork to do good in the world.
“When she wanted crazy things, they were crazy, but they had some sort of philanthropic, positive aspect to them,” a top WeWork employee who recently left the company said. “When Adam wanted crazy things, it was sometimes just because it would be fun.”
The WeWork insider insists that, despite what was seen by many as a preoccupation with Instagram and maintaining a certain image, Rebekah’s spirituality was not merely show. She meditated and did yoga several hours a day. Thurman recalls talking Rebekah out of naming one of her children, Tibet.
Ultimately, her zen-like state didn’t calm the company’s state of unrest.
“She lived in a utopian bubble,” the WeWork insider said. “She grew up wealthy, and then found all this wealth and was super high on her own supply, and maybe failed to [account for] the regular common day-to-day people.”
Since the WeWork implosion, the couple’s net worth has gone from $4 billion to $600 million, according to Forbes.
But Rebekah and Adam may not be ready to toss in the towel just yet. A real-estate source says that amid their departure, the Neumanns negotiated to keep the penthouse of the new WeWork at 430 Park Avenue as a family office.
‘They are for sure going to build something else,” the WeWork insider speculated, adding that the move to Israel is not a sign of defeat. “They are people who are not just entrepreneurs but they really want to make a difference.”
SEE ALSO: Sex, tequila, and a tiger: Employees inside Adam Neumann’s WeWork talk about the nonstop party to attain a $100 billion dream and the messy reality that tanked it
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