WeWork moves to assuage investor concerns

Money-losing office rental company said to be considering major changes to governance

Photograph: Getty Images

Photograph: Getty Images

 

WeWork is considering major changes to governance to assuage investor concerns ahead of an initial public offering this month that’s given pause to some of its own bankers, according to people with knowledge of the situation.

Both of its lead financial advisers – JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs – have concerns about proceeding with an IPO that could value the company as low as $15 billion (€13.6bn), sources have said, asking not to be identified because the talks are confidential. That’s set off a push to make the public sale more palatable to potential investors with governance reforms.

Any decision ultimately rests with the venture’s co-founder and chief executive officer, Adam Neumann, who maintains voting control through a three-class share structure and has been an adamant proponent of the IPO, the people said.

The stakes are high for the money-losing venture and backers including SoftBank, its largest investor, which added to its stake in January at a $47 billion valuation. WeWork needs to raise at least $3 billion through an IPO to tap into an additional $6 billion credit line that bankers have been setting up in recent weeks. The facility requires the company to carry out its offering by December 31st.

The goal is to conclude a roadshow and price the offering before Rosh Hashana, sources said, effectively setting a deadline of September 27th.

It’s unclear what changes WeWork may make to its governance to improve interest in its IPO. The company already has taken some steps, such as adding a woman to its board and having Mr Neumann return $5.9 million of partnership interests initially granted to him as compensation for trademarks used in a rebranding. Yet its prospectus last month raised a variety of other concerns. Among them that the company paid Mr Neumann rent and lent him money. There’s also his voting rights over major decisions.

A spokesman for WeWork declined to comment.

Racked up losses

WeWork, which owns or leases offices and then rents space to companies that typically have shorter-term needs, released a preliminary prospectus last month showing the company had racked up billions in losses and was burning cash. It lost $690 million in this year’s first half, bringing total losses to almost $3 billion in the past three years.

The company had planned to hold a formal roadshow to promote the offering as soon as this week, Bloomberg reported last week. But scrutiny of its finances and governance, as well as broader market turmoil, have taken a toll on investor enthusiasm. Early this year, Goldman Sachs privately suggested to people close to WeWork that its valuation could rise to $65 billion after going public. Advisers estimate it may achieve less than a third of that under current conditions.

Since Thursday, WeWork executives have met in London, Boston and Toronto with investors who could potentially participate in an IPO or alternatively help provide capital privately. And in recent days, bankers handling the IPO have encouraged the company to proceed with the sale, the person said.

Vision fund

Meanwhile, SoftBank’s hefty investment in WeWork adds to pressure on Wall Street dealmakers to ensure any public offering doesn’t go awry. SoftBank’s Vision Fund owns stakes in a vast array of technology ventures, giving it clout in deciding which investment banks are hired for future fundraisings. It has, say sources, pressed WeWork to postpone the stock offering.

The Vision Fund invested in WeWork at about a $20 billion valuation in early 2017, while SoftBank Group kept pouring in money. A weak IPO could hurt the value of the fund’s stake just as SoftBank tries to persuade customers to bankroll a second $108 billion iteration of the investment vehicle. – Bloomberg