“I made a wrong decision,” Masayoshi Son, SoftBank’s chief executive, said last year. “I didn’t look at WeWork right.” SoftBank has agreed to cap its voting power in the company below 50 percent. SoftBank and other investors have to wait several months before they can sell their shares.
The pandemic, which emptied office towers around the world, also crushed WeWork’s business.
Traditional landlords survived because tenants were legally obliged to keep paying their yearslong leases, most of which remain in effect. But WeWork’s customers were able to cancel their much shorter-term agreements as they expired. WeWork’s revenue in the second quarter of this year was $593 million, well below the $988 million in revenue it reported for the first quarter of 2020, its peak quarter.
And this partly explains why the company is using up cash rather than generating it. In the first half of this year, WeWork consumed $1.31 billion of cash running its operations and purchasing property and equipment, more than the $1.15 billion in the same period of 2020.
Still, WeWork has made strides in cutting its operating expenses — and hopes it will become profitable if its revenue grows. Some of the biggest savings have come from renegotiating leases with landlords or getting out of them.
Sandeep Mathrani, WeWork’s chief executive, said this month that the company had exited more than 150 full leases and done 350 lease amendments so far this year. “What we did through the pandemic was correct the cost structure, right size the company,” he said in an interview with CNBC on Thursday.
Perhaps the biggest question hanging over WeWork is whether it will suffer in the downturn that is pounding some of the biggest office space markets or find an opening in a work world reshaped by the pandemic.
Occupancy levels in office towers in cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco, among WeWork’s biggest markets, are still well below prepandemic levels — and may never return to what they were, with many companies letting employees work fully or partly from home. In this environment, companies are vacating their spaces when leases expire or subletting them. As a result, record amounts of office space are being dumped onto the market, and rents have plunged.