I know Elizabeth Holmes. Chances are you do, too.
I have never met her or spoken with her but I recognize her. I see some former clients in the pages of John Carreyrou’s, Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup. Holmes has the distinction of being the youngest female billionaire but fraud evens out the playing field. Right now she is worth about nothing and Theranos, her company, is but a memory.
Theranos was going to revolutionize the lab industry with a device that would run over a hundred lab tests with blood from a single fingerstick.
My first thought was who needs that much information?
It doesn’t matter who needed it because it never worked. In order to use the blood, the sample had to be diluted and that never turns out well when there are tiny variations in concentrations of very little blood causing major deviations in results.
Reading Carreyrou’s book was like reading a clinical record of a psych patient without authorization. Elizabeth Holmes had but a passing acquaintance with the truth and it’s anybody’s guess where her fantasies stopped and her lies began.
It helped that she was very well connected. Her board of directors could take down small countries before lunch just for fun. Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, Sam Nunn and more believed in her. George Schultz’s grandson, Tyler worked for Theranos for a period of time that ended with estrangement from his family and almost a half a million dollars in legal fees.
As far as employees went, she hired the best but nobody lasted. Problems brought to her attention about the product not working were met with the proverbial axe. Others had a life outside of work and that was clearly contrary to the company’s unwritten policy. They quit.
Can you imagine hiding your operations from CMS auditors?
When an employee on leave committed suicide, Theranos barely recognized the employee’s absence. When her idol, Steve Jobs, died, an Apple flag was flown at half mast outside of Theranos.
Anyone who has ever worked for a fraudulent agency will recognize Theranos. I am sure that every one of her former employees is embarrassed for having believed in her ‘vision’. All of them can see the lies in hindsight and are kicking themselves for not asking the hard questions earlier. There should be an address to send sympathy cards to former Theranos employees.
If you haven’t ever had close contact with a truly fraudulent employer, read Carreyrou’s book and maybe you never will. But don’t count on it.