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WeWork CEO Adam Neumann. Photo: Cindy Ord/Getty Images for WeWork

For 25 years Silicon Valley has built successful companies by handing control to inventive and driven but sometimes eccentric or reckless startup founders. From Facebook to Google, these leaders often receive special kinds of voting stock that let them sell shares to the public — and become fabulously wealthy — while retaining power over their firms.

Why it matters: As the latest wave of tech startups lines up for its string of IPOs, the pendulum may be swinging the other way — with investors demanding problematic founders step back or cede control.

  • As WeWork's public offering falters amid questions about the company's business model and the behavior of founder and CEO Adam Neumann, Softbank, WeWork's biggest investor, is pushing to replace Neumann, the Wall Street Journal reports.
  • Several stories have targeted detailing Neumann's excesses, from his penchant for alcohol to an epic pot-filled private plane flight to examples of WeWork doing business with other entities he controlled.

Where it stands: For now, Neumann still has his voting stock, but WeWork needs access to cash to keep funding and expanding its growing network of office-sharing spaces.

  • Neumann's troubles come in the wake of founder Travis Kalanick's 2017 ouster from Uber, which he had built and controlled. His board turned on him after accounts surfaced of a culture of sexual harassment, gender discrimination, retaliation and bullying that he'd overseen. 

The big picture: There have been other cautionary tales of placing too much faith in a charismatic founder (see: Theranos). In other cases, eccentric founders remain in control, such as Elon Musk, though concerns remain about his judgment, temperament and ability to adhere to securities law.

Our thought bubble: Entrepreneurial drive doesn't necessarily translate into true leadership, particularly as organizations grow.

  • When control passes from founders, right now it usually goes to professional managers beholden to short-term market forces, and that isn't necessarily a great answer, either.
  • The industry needs to develop a better system for cultivating founders who have ethical values as well as disruptive ideas.

The bottom line: Being an effective CEO requires a range of skills and few individuals have all of them. But when founders are guaranteed to remain in control, they're empowered to be reckless, licensed to misbehave, and difficult to hold accountable.

Go deeper: Why WeWork waits

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to clarify that the Wall Street Journal's coverage reported on only one pot-filled private plane flight by Neumann (not multiple pot-filled plane flights).

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Health: Nursing homes are still getting pummeledU.S. could hit herd immunity by end of summer 2021 if Americans embrace virus vaccines, Fauci says.
  2. Politics: Pelosi, Schumer call on McConnell to adopt bipartisan $900B stimulus framework.
  3. World: U.K. clears Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for mass rollout — Putin says Russia will begin large-scale vaccination next week.
  4. Business: Investors are finally starting to take their money out of safe-haven Treasuries.
  5. Sports: The end of COVID’s grip on sports may be in sight.

Pelosi, Schumer call on McConnell to adopt bipartisan $900B stimulus framework

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Nov. 20. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to use a $908 billion bipartisan coronavirus relief framework as a basis for jumpstarting negotiations.

Why it matters: The framework, introduced by a group of bipartisan senators on Tuesday, calls for significantly less funding than Pelosi had previously demanded — a sign that Democrats are ready to further compromise as millions of Americans endure economic hardship.

Scoop: Uber in talks to sell air taxi business to Joby

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Uber is in advanced talks to sell its Uber Elevate unit to Joby Aviation, Axios has learned from multiple sources. A deal could be announced later this month.

Between the lines: Uber Elevate was formed to develop a network of self-driving air taxis, but to date has been most notable for its annual conference devoted to the nascent industry.