Softbank is Making Move to Take Over WeWork
Monday marked a deadline to submit bids. Ahead of that SoftBank has offered to lend $5 billion to the WeWrok and accelerate a $1.5 billion equity investment that was set to take place next year. SoftBank also plans to buy more than $1 billion of stock from existing investors and employees, moves that would give them control and an equity ownership above 50%.
JPMorgan Chase & Co. plans to submit a competing $5 billion debt package backstopped by the bank that would bring together a group of outside investors including Barry Sternlicht’s Starwood Capital Group.
A special committee of WeWork’s board will review both and should come to a decision this week.
SoftBank's offer would likely see it buying shares from Mr. Neumann as part of the employee offer and would seek to further diminish his voting control over the company he co-founded in 2010. A top SoftBank executive, Marcelo Claure, would succeed Mr. Neumann as board chairman and would head a search for outside leadership.
Reports suggest WeWork only has enough money to last a few more weeks and not many investors beyond SoftBank, which already owns a one-third stake, are eager to step into the fray.
If its deal goes through, SoftBank will have invested well over $10 billion, and lent $5 billion more, to a company now valued at $8 billion or less. Its investments are split between the Japanese-listed parent company and the $100 billion Vision Fund in which SoftBank’s own money is mingled with that of outside investors.
SoftBank expects that with new money and management blood, and a slimmed-down business focused on leasing office space, the company can turn around its finances, become profitable and eventually go public, according to people familiar with the deal.
Under its new co-CEOs, Artie Minson and Sebastian Gunningham, WeWork plans to sell or shut down side ventures, including a private elementary school and event-planning website Meetup.com, and focus on its core business.
WeWork also is planning to cut thousands of employees, but delayed the layoffs earlier this month because it couldn’t afford the severance costs.
In a note to staff last week, Messrs. Minson and Gunningham said the company would “treat employees fairly who are impacted.” They acknowledged the toll that the company’s swift change in fortune has taken on its workers, whose expected IPO riches have evaporated.
“Many of you are asking or receiving questions for which we don’t have final answers at this time,” the two executives wrote in the note.