WeWork founder Adam Neumann offers Baruch grads a “blueprint for success” at commencement ceremony

WeWork founder Adam Neumann addresses the Class of 2017 at the Baruch College commencement on June 5 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn

Billionaire WeWork founder Adam Neumann stood among the Baruch College graduating class of 2017 at this year’s commencement ceremony, having finally earned his B.B.A. fifteen years after taking his first freshman class at Baruch. In 2010, the Israeli entrepreneur started a real estate business that birthed the concept of shared office space to spur collaboration and cross-fertilization between tenant businesses, where the ‘Do what you love’ ethos is keenly felt. Today, WeWork operates 77 locations in 16 countries and is ushering in what it dubs the ‘We Generation,’ where work/life balance is an art instead of an ever-teetering scale. In his keynote speech, Neumann shared five simple tropes from his “blueprint” for success.

  1. Work on yourself

If you aren’t soul searching in one way or another – or, at the very least, periodically contemplating how to be a better person – you are missing out on life, Neumann says. Spiritual practice, consulting with a therapist, and building strong relationships with loved ones were some of the methods he enumerated for achieving personal growth. “Every night before you go to sleep, ask yourself, did I learn something important today?” Neumann said. “Did I learn a big lesson or a small one? And if the answer is no, think harder because every day there is one.”

2. Find your soulmate

Five minutes into their first date, Neumann’s wife-to-be pronounced that he was “full of s**t.” He had at that point founded two failed businesses – one selling women’s shoes with collapsible high heels, the second a brand of baby clothing equipped with knee and elbow pads for new crawlers. While the clothing brand grossed $2 million in sales, expenses totaled $3 million. Neumann thought of business ideas everywhere he went, but he hadn’t found one he was truly passionate about. He was an entrepreneur simply for the sake of being in business. Shortly thereafter, he proposed to his wife, Rebekah, who sat in the audience that day with their four children. “A true partner will not be impressed with your bullshit,” Neumann said. “They’re only impressed with real things.” They’ll see past your income, looks, and social status, and love you not only for who you are today, but who you can become in the future.

3. Maintain a circle of close friends

Neumann’s maternal grandmother, Esty, was born in Poland in 1934. When she was six months old, her father took her for a stroll in the park. A stranger peered into the baby carriage and made a jarring anti-Semitic remark about the baby. Within a week, her father moved the family to Israel. “My great grandfather realized that if a person can say something so negative about a baby, there’s a true problem in the world,” Neumann said. The give-and-take of friendship nourishes the soul and, like a true partner, he says, a true friend cares enough to tell you the truth and isn’t easily impressed by surface vanities.

4. Build a meaningful business

Business owners should be mission-driven first, profit-seeking second, Neumann says. While WeWork’s business model is predicated on re-renting large office spaces as shared workspace for tech startups, the company is on a larger mission to “create a world where people work to make a life, not just a living.” In addition to the much-vaunted yearly employee summit that looks like a cross between a sprawling music festival and a summer camp, the company recently launched a socially responsible arm called ‘Mission Possible’ in which Harlem-based entrepreneurs can apply for WeWork office space to use free of charge for 3-12 months. To qualify, startup members must agree to five hours of community service for a non-profit organization in Harlem or within the WeWork community. Neumann’s people-first approach shines through in WeWork’s mission and hiring practices. “It is we who will blaze the path forward,” he told the graduating class, “paved not with algorithms, not with software, but with values, with friendship, with common rules, but most importantly, with humanity.”

5. Have children

In addition to being the CEO of a unicorn startup valued at $16 billion, Neumann and his wife are raising four children under the age of 10, but he couldn’t be happier. “If you work on yourself and you have the right partner, you will do an unbelievable job with your kids,” Neumann advised. He told the graduates not to rush into having children, but to see it as a crucial rite of passage.