Back in 2018, co-working startup WeWork was one of the most valuable private companies in the world, intent on growth at all costs. It's cofounder, Adam Neumann, was pushing the company to expand into retail.
That ambition is what led Neumann to schedule a meeting with former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, according to Reeves Wiedeman's new book "Billion Dollar Loser," which chronicles the rise and fall of WeWork.
Neumann, who at that point was still CEO of WeWork, flew to Seattle in early 2018 to meet with Schultz about WeWork's retail ambitions. Schultz gave Neumann a piece of advice based on his own experience, according to Wiedeman: After Schultz took over as CEO and Starbucks started to grow rapidly, Schultz said he wished he'd paused that growth for six months in order to address some core issues within Starbucks' business, issues that would come back to haunt the company later.
According to Wiedeman, at that point in time, executives within WeWork were asking Neumann for exactly that: the opportunity to slow down growth in order to create a system for sales and for leasing new spaces, and to better organize the company's construction process.
They were also asking Neumann to stop trying to expand into new business ventures — like retail.
Neumann chose not to heed Schultz's advice, however. As Wiedeman reports in the book, on the way back from Seattle aboard a private jet, Neumann repeated what Schultz had told him to the WeWork employees present and gave an opinion on the advice: "F--- that."
Representatives for Neumann and Schultz did not immediately respond to Business Insider's request for comment on the meeting.
Neumann was CEO of WeWork from the company's launch in 2010 until late 2019, when he stepped down from the role and from the company's board of directors as part of a buyout deal with SoftBank. Neumann's departure came after WeWork was rocked by controversy following the filing of its paperwork for an initial public offering — the filing revealed staggering losses topping $1.6 billion.
The revelations led WeWork to put its IPO on hold, close its educational arm, WeGrow, and attempt to sell some of the businesses it had previously acquired.
Soon after, the spotlight fell on Neumann, who was revealed to be entangled in a web loans and conflicts of interest, including family involvement in WeWork's business. An exposé by The Wall Street Journal reported that Neumann had created a hard-partying culture within WeWork, including drugs and drinking, and that he and his wife, Rebekah, who was also involved in WeWork, were known for their cutthroat management styles.