Jen Berrent, WeWork's 'legal mastermind,' has earned millions and survived executive shakeups. Here's how the loyal enabler of Adam Neumann became WeWork's most senior woman.

Adam Neumann Jen Berrent WeWork IPO happy

  • Jen Berrent, WeWork’s co-president and chief legal officer, is
    the only senior woman at WeWork and the company’s top legal
    executive. 
  • Current and former employees have described her as an Adam
    Neumann and WeWork enforcer, the legal mastermind who found ways to
    protect the company and its CEO, no matter what tricky situation
    presented itself. She was in the room for many of the coworking
    company’s most critical meetings. 
  • One person described her role as one who handles everyday
    issues so that his boss doesn’t have to, and in that sense said she
    is “Adam Neumann’s Michael Cohen.”
  • A spokesperson for WeWork declined to comment on behalf
    of both Berrent and the company.
  • “Adam worked closely with Jen for many years with great respect
    for her counsel and skills,” a spokesperson for Neumann told
    Business Insider. “She had responsibility for major parts of the
    company and was one of Adam’s most trusted managers and
    advisors.”

  • For more WeWork stories, click here
    .

Adam Neumann was screaming at Jen Berrent, the woman who had
been, for the past five years, his closest company ally. The WeWork
board had gathered on a late September day to force him to resign
and he wasn’t going down without a temper tantrum.

Neumann was under a lot of stress. During a short-lived
pre-roadshow for an IPO, the company he founded had been treated by
institutional investors like a smelly box of compost; investors
liked the general idea of the company but held their noses and
their distance. No institutional investors were eager to buy the
stock, as headline after headline documented the excesses of
Neumann’s leadership style, WeWork’s partying culture, its odd
governance structure and pages and pages of his
alleged self-dealing
disclosed in the prospectus.

Neumann, who is dyslexic, relied on Berrent, the company’s top
lawyer, to oversee the hugely critical IPO prospectus. She wrote
sections of the document that detailed controversial related-party
disclosures, which some say she approved and, in other cases,
masterminded. She, in turn, worked closely with then-CFO Artie
Minson and outside counsel at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and
Flom. People close to Neumann say, despite being the CEO, he never
thoroughly read it.

As WeWork’s board forced Neumann to tender his resignation, he
focused his anger and blame, as he had on Berrent and other
executives many times before, full force on to his top lawyer,
according to one person familiar with the matter.

A spokesperson for WeWork declined to comment on behalf of both
Berrent and the company.

“Adam worked closely with Jen for many years with great respect
for her counsel and skills,” a spokesperson for Neumann told
Business Insider. “She had responsibility for major parts of the
company and was one of Adam’s most trusted managers and
advisors.”

A ‘legal mastermind’ who found ways to do what Adam Neumann wanted

Jen BerrentThe meeting was ugly, but in the end, Neumann stepped
down and Berrent stayed. She remains at the company, a survivor in
an otherwise broad house-cleaning of Neumann allies that occurred
after he gave up control. 

These days, Berrent, WeWork’s only female senior executive, is
keeping a low profile. Employees haven’t seen her name on an
all-hands email for months, despite her position as one of the most
senior members of the management team and former HR chief, and her
reputation for inclusive meetings and inspiring speeches. 

She’s still working daily, multiple people tell Business
Insider, but in the background. She helped, for example, manage the
company’s 2,400 job cuts last month. 

Berrent’s importance to WeWork cannot be overstated. In
conversations with dozens of current and former WeWork employees,
Berrent’s name came up repeatedly. One person described her role as
one who handles everyday issues so that his boss doesn’t have to,
and in that sense said she is “Adam Neumann’s Michael Cohen.”
Others described her as a Neumann and WeWork enforcer, the legal
mastermind who found ways to protect the company and its CEO, no
matter what tricky situation presented itself. Another stressed her
loyalty, comparing it to that of a consigliere, a term sometimes
used to refer to an adviser to the head of a crime family. 

Others pushed back on those characterizations, describing her as
one of the most competent people at the startup, who balanced out
Neumann. She was someone expressly focused on getting things done,
who felt it was her job to orchestrate his wishes when the board
approved them in ways that protected him and the company.

What everyone can agree on is that in the last few years,
Berrent played a critical role in advising Neumann on some of the
embattled company’s most unsavory issues. 

“She’s successful. She’s smart. She worked for the guy,” said
one former executive. “Her job was to execute what he wanted.” This
person described Berrent as “world class at what she does. If she’s
directed by someone for good, she can be used for good.”

At WeWork, Berrent felt she could finally be her authentic
self

Berrent’s journey to WeWork’s executive suite followed a much
more traditional path than the larger-than-life Neumann, a child of
a kibbutz and an Israeli Navy vet who founded WeWork after earlier
startup attempts failed. 

She grew up on Long Island and traveled just 120 miles for
college to the Ivy League’s University of Pennsylvania. She
attended the prestigious New York University’s law school and three
years after graduation, joined 100-year-old Covington and Burling
as an associate. 

Two years later, in 2006, Berrent joined another prominent
practice at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, rising to become
head of the firm’s emerging companies practice. In that role, she
worked with up-and-coming startups like WeWork. One story goes that
as part of her efforts to drum up new business, she camped out at a
WeWork until she could introduce herself to Neumann. 

In September 2014, after Neumann personally recruited her for
months, Berrent officially joined WeWork as general counsel. Two
months later, it raised $355 million from T. Rowe Price, Goldman
Sachs and Harvard at a $5 billion valuation. Berrent would play a
key role in negotiating WeWork’s later fundraising rounds. 

She told employees she felt that WeWork was a place where she
could be her authentic self. 

“When I left a law firm to join WeWork, I emailed my colleagues
a farewell note, quoting E. E. Cummings: ‘To be
nobody-but-yourself—in a world which is doing its best, night and
day, to make you everybody else—means to fight the hardest battle
which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.’ I felt
an urgency to be at a company where I did not need to fight quite
so hard to be me. That place is WeWork.”

Berrent was the only senior woman at WeWork and felt women
had to work ten times harder to reach the top

Jennifer Berrent WeWorkIn
the early days, Berrent and Neumann
bonded
during one-on-one meetings they held while walking
around New York. As WeWork grew so did her stature within the
company – Berrent worked long hours wearing many hats, including
chief operating officer, that saw her act as WeWork’s chief
fundraising negotiator, lawsuit handler and Neumann
confidant. 

Across a sea of white, male leadership, Berrent stood out as the
only senior woman. She’s also gay, married and raising two
daughters and a son. In the early days, she used those
non-traditional traits to appeal to a workforce that considered
itself part of a cause larger than just leasing out coworking
space. 

“She had a speech which riled people up in a good way,” one
person recalled. “If you feel like you’ve been an outcast, if you
feel like you’ve been mistreated because you’re a woman, because
you’re gay, whatever it is, I’m here to tell you We is your
home.”

By 2016, she was running legal, marketing, events and HR, in
addition to holding the title of chief culture officer.
Increasingly, she was called on to handle personal situations for
the Neumanns, as well as the company. 

When one executive, rising star and Berrent direct report, Will
Potter, fell out of favor with Neumann’s wife, Rebekah, over his
opposition to one of her fads, Adam called on Berrent to dismiss
him, according to a former colleague. Potter, who didn’t respond to
repeated requests for comment, left the company in May. Another
described Berrent as having to “babysit” Neumann. 

“Before the all hands meetings, it was clear that she’d have to
spend all night at Adam’s apartment while he was drinking tequila
and dictating things,” one person close to both executives
said.

“Before the all hands meetings, it was clear that she’d
have to spend all night at Adam’s apartment while he was drinking
tequila and dictating things.”

Berrent took her work seriously and felt women needed to work
ten times as hard as men to reach the top, one person familiar with
her thinking said. She didn’t have patience for those who whined
instead of working hard.

Two days after her grandmother died, in 2017, Berrent boarded a
plane to close one of WeWork’s most important deals of all time,
the initial $1.3 billion Softbank investment.

“With strong feelings of loss, I boarded an airplane for Japan
to lead the most important negotiation of my career. Adam called
with strategy, advice, and encouragement, and without an ounce of
doubt in my strength,” she wrote in a public post to the troops in
2018. 

In April 2019, Neumann reshuffled the executive ranks and
stripped Berrent of her COO title. Instead, he made her chief legal
officer and co-president. (The COO title was given to a
London-based exec, who, by the time of the IPO preparation and
WeWork’s corporate entity shift into a C-structure series of LLCs a
few months later, had drifted back into the background.) Minson,
who later became co-CEO with Sebastian Gunningham, shared the
president’s title with her. 

Berrent’s LinkedIn profile stands frozen from that time, listing
her as COO, but there’s also reason to believe that she maneuvered
a way to keep the role. In August, as the march towards the planned
IPO picked up, Berrent signed a new employment contract. While her
formal title remained co-president and CLO, her new work contract
called her Co-President, Chief Legal Officer, and Chief Operating
Officer of the company.

A loyal soldier

Jennifer Berrent WeWorkGender,
diversity and people issues would dog Berrent’s time at WeWork.

She personally approved the firing of at least one manager who
had repeated HR complaints claiming disrespectful behavior toward
women, according to one person familiar with the matter. 

Multiple employees also told stories of coming to her with ideas
about improving WeWork’s diversity hiring, after she had urged them
to do so in her speeches, only to feel brushed off with a demeanor
some described as cold, a potentially sexist label often attached
to high powered women. 

She was prone to freezing people out once they stopped being
useful to her, leaving a trail of former allies now essentially
dead to her, according to two people who dealt with her.  

“She kind of took this very lawyerly, legalistic view of things
that people are out to screw you over and you had to protect
yourself,” one former colleague said. “That was her default.”

Earlier this year, she was named as a defendant in a sexual
harassment and gender discrimination lawsuit brought by Lisa
Bridges, a former HR executive who reported to her. Bridges alleged
massive differences in pay between men and women at the company,
particularly when it came to equity grants, and said Berrent cut
her out of key meetings after she raised concerns. In the
complaint, Bridges pointed to equity grants that WeWork awarded in
February, alleging that of the 61 employees granted in excess of $1
million only three were women.

Two former WeWork execs told Business Insider they saw examples
of gender pay imbalances, while two female ex-employees said they
felt underpaid.

Bridges also alleged that Berrent told her that “men are paid
more than women because, for example, men take risks and women
don’t and women are `second earners,'” according to the
complaint.

At the time the complaint was filed, WeWork denied the lawsuit
had any merit. Bridges later told the court that she dismissed her
earlier claims. A WeWork spokesperson declined to comment on behalf
of both Berrent and the company when asked about the allegations
for this story.

Berrent’s sometimes ruthless work ethic can be seen in corporate
documents she helped write.

One of Berrent’s jobs in her early days was formalizing employee
roles and responsibilities. One clause, around non-compete
restrictions for those leaving the company, drew the attention of
New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood. Berrent had defended
the clauses in 2017 by explaining “Our people are our soul.” But in
September 2018, Underwood forced WeWork to scale them back because
she saw them as too restrictive.

“Jen’s a very compliant soldier to the point that her morality
became secondary,” one former executive said. “It was hard for
her.”

A multi-million-dollar reward for a job well done

Berrent has been handsomely rewarded for her work as Neumann’s
head enforcer. When WeWork issued multimillion loans to board
members for buying their stock options, the company also granted
loans ranging from $3 million to $6.3 million to Berrent, director
Lew Frankfort, and Minson. The company then gave Berrent and Minson
bonuses in the exact amount of their outstanding loans, which they
used to pay off their debt, according to the S-1. 

She also has a generous exit package: if Berrent resigns in the
first year after a change in control, she’s entitled to a year’s
salary ($871,154). Under some forms of termination, she would be
eligible for immediate vesting of outstanding equity awards,
according to her employment contract. At the time of the S-1, she
was set to get 347,424 shares over the next decade, though it’s
unclear if that still applies after SoftBank bailed out the
company. 

These days, Berrent’s job is fraught with complications.
Lawsuits against WeWork, which Berrent must oversee, continue to
pile up. The Securities and Exchange Commission and the New York
State Attorney General are now investigating the company. Future
lawsuits seem almost guaranteed. Such investigations don’t usually
reflect well on a company’s top legal exec. 

On the other hand, Neumann’s departure signals a fresh
beginning. Berrent may compartmentalize the pain and move forward,
current and former colleagues say. 

“She just had this attitude that you suck it up and work
harder,” one former employee said, “and you will get there.”


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Jen Berrent, WeWork's 'legal mastermind,' has earned millions and survived executive shakeups. Here's how the loyal enabler of Adam Neumann became WeWork's most senior woman.