WeWork has held talks with T-Mobile USA boss John Legere to become its new chief executive, as the lossmaking office leasing company’s majority owner SoftBank attempts to stabilise the company and salvage its multibillion-dollar investment.
Mr Legere is one of several candidates under consideration for the top job and it was unclear whether he was the preferred individual, people briefed on the matter told the Financial Times.
The move to hire a new chief executive from outside raises questions about the prospects for Artie Minson and Sebastian Gunningham, the two WeWork insiders elevated to co-CEOs to replace Adam Neumann, co-founder, after the company’s failed flotation in September.
Mr Minson was WeWork’s chief financial officer before his promotion while Mr Gunningham, a former Amazon executive, was vice-chairman.
Other people close to SoftBank and WeWork have said that Marcelo Claure, the former Sprint executive who SoftBank installed as WeWork’s chairman in October, has no plan to act as the group’s chief executive.
Mr Legere, a colourful executive who has cultivated an outsize Twitter following, presided over T-Mobile’s effort to buy Sprint, its rival US telecoms group, which is controlled by SoftBank. Joining WeWork would reunite him with Mr Claure, with whom he negotiated the $59bn deal.
The news of the discussions knocked shares in T-Mobile USA by almost 3 per cent to $78.61 in lunchtime trading, and shares in Sprint were off almost 4 per cent at $5.86. Regulators have approved the deal but it still faces litigation from several state attorneys-general.
Before the Sprint-T-Mobile deal, however, the two executives were fierce competitors. Mr Claure once called Mr Legere a “con artist”.
Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a Yale management professor who has known Mr Legere for several years and has been tipping him for months as a candidate to run WeWork, described the T-Mobile boss as a tireless promoter of the brands he works for.
His entrepreneurship, his record of “disaster recovery” as head of the telecoms company Global Crossing after an accounting scandal, and SoftBank’s “great respect” for him make Mr Legere an ideal fit for WeWork, Mr Sonnenfeld wrote in September.
“While he’s almost as well-known publicly for his long hair and flamboyant persona as [Mr] Neumann, the comparisons stop there.”
WeWork was plunged into chaos when it pulled the plug on its initial public offering, ultimately agreeing to a near $10bn rescue package from SoftBank in a deal that gave the Japanese telecoms-to-technology group majority control and pumped fresh capital into the business in the form of new equity and debt.
Mr Legere could join WeWork in early 2020 if he and the board can thrash out a deal. But the work ahead of any new WeWork boss may prove more challenging than his success turning T-Mobile into the third biggest wireless carrier in the US. “It’s not an easy job to take on,” Mr Sonnenfeld said.
WeWork has begun cutting or outsourcing 4,000 of its roughly 14,000 employees in a cost cutting drive which Mr Claure has said will allow it to reach profitability without raising fresh capital. Insiders are unsure whether that will be enough or if property owners, who have leased millions of square feet of office space to the company, will be as keen to rent to WeWork again if it overcomes its current crisis.
The Wall Street Journal earlier reported on the talks with Mr Legere.