The old saw among the chattering classes is that there's no such thing as bad press, but recent years seems to have given lie to that notion. Indeed, nowadays it seems more beneficial to go about your work building a company quietly, lest your flaws and mistakes and in some instances weirdness be put on display for the world to see.
The latest in the hopper is WeWork, the co-working company that saw its reputation less diminish than dissipate entirely, vanishing like the free food in the common room. Somehow the billions in losses and delayed IPO seem lesser stories to the mismanagement and malfeasance and all-around peculiarity of both the company and its CEO Adam Neumann. These aren't the sorts of things that are generally written of companies about to hit the big time, but rather prophetic chronicles of foreboding for companies where the house of cards is about to tumble down.
Amidst all of the details coming out about Neumann and WeWork, there was one tidbit that caught the eye of IP observers. CNBC reports that Neumann returned $5.9 million in company stock that were given him for the acquisition of the trademark on the phrase "We" in advance of the company's rebranding as the We Company. Luckily for him, he needed to look no further than We Holdings, LLC, an investment company that Neumann also owned with a co-founder, for the trademark, a piece of good fortune for which he was presumably rewarded with nearly $6 million in stock. It would look to be questionable dealings even in the best of circumstances, but coupled with the raft of other stories emerging about WeWork it seems an exemplar of the shoddy and shady governance under the stewardship of Neumann and others in his orbit.
Now, with the ostensibly pending IPO, Neumann and the company are obliged to try and put their house in order to try and save it, as the bloom has very much come off the rose of the one-time darling of the startup set. The stock is returned, but the genie may well be too long out of the bottle, and Neumann's time as the operating head of WeWork would seem to be at its end, as the WeWork board moves Neumann to a different role as they look for a CEO to bring the company back on course to a successful public offering.
The trademark element of the story might be tangential, but nevertheless important, if only as a representative piece of the whole, and a lesson in miniature about the follies of trying to line your own pockets at the expense — quite literally in this case— of your company. The questionable practices always come to light in the end, and the public disclosures of an IPO lay bare every company's soul to have judgement rendered by the world at large; CEOs would do well to act accordingly.