Over time, I’d heard about Elizabeth Holmes and the Theranos debacle but I really didn’t pay attention until I read about a book that hit the world with great fanfare in May 2018. It was written by John Carreyrou, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter at The Wall Street Journal.
Elizabeth Holmes – not a worry in the world
It sounded like a terrific read so I dashed to the library to put it on hold. Guess what? There were many, many folks ahead of me! Months went by and no notice appeared in my email so on October of 2019 I went back to the Kips Bay branch of the NYC library to see what happened. Lo and behold they had a copy on the shelf so I grabbed it and headed home to read from that afternoon until 5:00 am the next morning.
BAD BLOOD: SECRETS AND LIES IN A SILICON VALLEY STARTUP is the name of the book. It’s a riveting account of how in 2003 a 19-year-old Stanford University dropout named Elizabeth Holmes raised more than $700 million from venture capitalists and private investors to create a blood-testing startup.
The company grew to a valuation of $9 billion making Holmes the world’s youngest female billionaire with a net worth of $4.5 billion in 2014. But it all came crashing down when the shortcomings of the company’s technology was exposed. This year, Holmes and Sunny Balwani, the president of Theranos, face a trial in July over “massive fraud” – if found guilty they could get 20 years in prison.
HOW IN THE WORLD COULD SHE PULL THIS STUNT OFF is the question I kept asking myself the entire time I was reading the book. It was a combination of factors: (1) she styled herself as a female Steve Jobs by wearing a black turtleneck and black slacks every day, (2) she was smart and worked hard, e.g., at Stanford she studied chemical engineering and – as a freshman – was a “president’s scholar,” (3) she created a business model around the idea that blood tests could be done using proprietary technology that required only a finger pinprick and a small amount of blood.
SHE TOOK INVESTOR’S MONEY ON THE CONDITION THAT she wouldn’t have to reveal how Theranos’ technology worked, (4) her obsession with secrecy extended to every aspect of Theranos, there was no dialogue between departments, (5) when employees told her that there were inaccuracies in the technology she fired them for being disloyal, (6) she began securing outside partnerships with companies such as Capital Blue Cross and Walgreens (who opened testing centers in their stores). This activity made Theranos appear as if it was the real deal. It never was and never will be.
Finally, in August 2015, the FDA began investigating and by October 2015, Carreyrou reported on Theranos’ struggles with its technology. He wrote that their blood-testing machine, named Edison, could not give accurate results. Both Carreyrou and The Wall Street Journal were threatened with lawsuits – undaunted they carried on with dozens of articles on Theranos.
THIS IS THE BIGGEST CORPORATE FRAUD SINCE ENRON where, incidentally, Holmes’ father was an executive at one time (I almost fell over when I read that one). Where is Elizabeth today? She recently married a MIT grad named Billy Evans who is heir to a chain of hotels in California.
Elizabeth and her new husband, Billy Evans, the hotel heir and MIT grad – it’s rumored that his family was stunned when they learned of the marriage
I’ll end with this quote from Nick Bilton, a special correspondent for Vanity Fair magazine. He says, “I personally find it crazy that she’s being charged with 11 felony counts, thousands of people’s lives were harmed and she’s as happy as can be.” Stay tuned.Shaun Nelson-Henrick
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The paparazzi horde, La Dolce Vita, 1960 – photo courtesy of Vanity Fair
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