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WeWork weighs curbs on voting power of co-founder to save IPO

Corporate governance and falling valuation spook SoftBank and other investors

WeWork's valuation has plunged by more than half from SoftBank's $47 billion estimate when it invested in the company in January.   © Reuters

NEW YORK (Financial Times) -- WeWork's executives, investors and advisers are discussing curbing the voting power of co-founder Adam Neumann and removing his wife Rebekah from a role in succession planning, in an attempt to save the company's initial public offering.

People familiar with the talks said changing the terms of Mr Neumann's supervoting rights, which give him 20 times the voting power of ordinary shareholders, was among the measures under consideration in an effort to win over sceptical investors.

Another possible change is taking Mrs Neumann out of an unusual role in helping select a future chief executive should Mr Neumann die.

Mr Neumann, 40, is now desperately at work to keep the IPO on track, even as the company's advisers question whether investors will bite at an already cut-price deal that would value the lossmaking property giant as low as $15bn. He would have to agree to any of the proposed changes.

The new valuation is less than half the $47bn that WeWork was calculated at this year when SoftBank invested $2bn in the group, and less than a quarter of the $65bn that bankers at Goldman Sachs had at one point pitched as a possibility for the company.

Inside the office space company, concern about the fate of the IPO has been heightened by the management cancelling an all-hands town hall that had been planned for Thursday and the departure of chief communications officer Jennifer Skyler who announced this week she was leaving for a role at American Express.

To allay corporate governance concerns, WeWork has already promised to add a new director to its board, while Mr Neumann returned a nearly $6m payment from the company that had drawn criticism.

However, his advisers worry that the changes will not have a great effect on the listing, with investor concerns about corporate governance even more outweighed by fears about the valuation and business model.

Mr Neumann has been in regular touch with Masayoshi Son, the chief executive of SoftBank, to find out a solution. Ultimately, the Japanese group could agree to inject further capital to delay WeWork's IPO to a later date, said people briefed about the matter.

Executives at WeWork's parent, the We Company, have held one-on-one meetings with institutional investors, and the group is still planning on launching a roadshow for the offering on Monday.

These people added that no final decision had yet been taken and that it would ultimately rest with Mr Neumann.

WeWork and SoftBank declined to comment.

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