Elizabeth Holmes backstage at TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco 2014
Elizabeth Anne Holmes
February 3, 1984
Washington, D.C., U.S.
|Residence||Los Altos Hills, California, U.S.|
|Title||Founder and ex-CEO of Theranos|
|Parent(s)||Christian Holmes IV |
Noel Anne Daoust
Elizabeth Anne Holmes (//; born February 3, 1984) is an American entrepreneur. She is the founder and former CEO of Theranos, a now defunct company known for their unlikely claims to have revolutionized blood testing using surprisingly small volumes of blood such as from a fingerprick. In 2015, Forbes named Holmes the youngest and wealthiest self-made female billionaire in America on the basis of a $9 billion valuation of Theranos. By the next year, following revelations of potential fraud, Forbes revised her net worth to zero dollars, and Fortune named Holmes one of the "World's Most Disappointing Leaders".
The decline of Theranos began in 2015, when a series of journalistic and regulatory investigations revealed doubts about the company's technology claims, and whether Holmes had potentially misled investors and the government. In 2018, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission charged Theranos and Holmes with deceiving investors by "massive fraud" through false or exaggerated claims about the accuracy of her blood-testing technology; Holmes settled the charges by paying a $500,000 fine, returning shares to the company, relinquishing her voting control of Theranos, and being barred from serving as an officer or director of a public company for ten years. In June 2018, a federal grand jury indicted Holmes and former Theranos chief operating officer Ramesh Balwani on nine counts of wire fraud and two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud for distributing blood tests with falsified results to consumers.
The early credibility of Theranos was in part interpreted as an effect of Holmes's personal connections and ability to recruit the support of influential people including Henry Kissinger, Bill Clinton, George Shultz, James Mattis, and Betsy DeVos. Holmes was in a relationship with her chief operating officer Ramesh "Sunny" Balwani, whom she met when she was 18 and he was 37.
Holmes's career, the rise and dissolution of her company, and the subsequent fallout comprise the subject of a book, Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by the Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou.
Elizabeth Holmes was born in Washington, D.C. Her father, Christian Rasmus Holmes IV, was a vice president at Enron, after which he held executive positions in government agencies such as USAID, the EPA, and USTDA. Her mother, Noel Anne Daoust, worked as a Congressional committee staffer. Holmes' great-grandfather, Christian Rasmus Holmes, was a Danish physician who married Bettie Fleischmann, the wealthy daughter of Charles Louis Fleischmann, the founder of Fleischmann’s Yeast; Dr. Holmes went on to establish Cincinnati General Hospital and the University of Cincinnati's medical school.
Holmes attended St. John's School in Houston. During high school, she was interested in computer programming and claims she started her first business selling C++ compilers to Chinese universities. Her parents had arranged Mandarin home tutoring, and partway through high school, Holmes began attending Stanford University's summer Mandarin program. In 2001, Holmes applied to college at Stanford, where she studied chemical engineering, and worked as a student researcher and lab assistant in the School of Engineering‘s lab.
After the end of her freshman year, Holmes worked in a lab at the Genome Institute of Singapore testing for severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) through the collection of blood samples with syringes. She filed her first patent application on a wearable drug-delivery patch in 2003. In March 2004, she dropped out of Stanford's School of Engineering and used her tuition money as seed funding for a consumer healthcare technology company.
Holmes founded the company Real-Time Cures in Palo Alto, California to "democratize healthcare". She sought to perform blood tests using only small amounts of blood. Holmes described her fear of needles as a motivation. When Holmes initially pitched the idea to reap "vast amounts of data from a few droplets of blood derived from the tip of a finger" to her medicine professor Phyllis Gardner at Stanford, Gardner responded, "I don't think your idea is going to work", explaining it was impossible to do what Holmes was claiming could be done. Several other expert medical professors told Holmes the same thing. However, Holmes did not relent, and succeeded in getting her advisor and dean at the School of Engineering, Channing Robertson, to back her idea.
In April 2004, Holmes incorporated the company as Theranos (a portmanteau of "therapy" and "diagnosis") and rented the basement of a group college house. At that time, Holmes hired her first employee and rented lab space. Robertson became the company's first board member and introduced Holmes to venture capitalists.
Holmes was an admirer of Apple founder Steve Jobs, and deliberately copied his style, frequently dressing in a black turtleneck sweater, as Jobs did. During most of her public appearances, she spoke in an unusually deep baritone voice, although a former Theranos colleague later revealed that her natural voice was actually a few octaves higher. Her family, meanwhile, has maintained that her voice is authentic.
Funding and expansion
Theranos experienced a spectacular rise before its ultimate downfall. By December 2004, Holmes had raised $6 million to fund the firm. By the end of 2010, Theranos had more than $92 million in venture capital. In July 2011, Holmes was introduced to former Secretary of State George Shultz. After a two-hour meeting, he joined the Theranos board of directors. Holmes was recognized for forming "the most illustrious board in U.S. corporate history" over the next three years.
Holmes operated Theranos in stealth mode, without press releases or a company website until September 2013, when the company announced a partnership with Walgreens to launch in-store blood sample collection centers. Media attention increased in 2014, when Holmes appeared on the covers of Fortune, Forbes, T: The New York Times Style Magazine, and Inc. Forbes recognized Holmes as the world's youngest self-made female billionaire and ranked her #110 on the Forbes 400 in 2014. Theranos was valued at $9 billion with more than $400 million in venture capital. By the end of 2014, her name appeared on 18 U.S. patents and 66 foreign patents. During 2015, Holmes established agreements with Cleveland Clinic, Capital BlueCross, and AmeriHealth Caritas to use Theranos technology.
John Carreyrou of The Wall Street Journal initiated a secret, months-long investigation of Theranos after he received a tip from a medical expert who thought the blood testing device seemed suspicious. Carreyrou spoke to ex-employee whistleblowers and obtained company documents. On learning of the investigation, Holmes initiated through her lawyer David Boies a campaign to stop Carreyrou from publishing, by levying legal and financial threats against the Journal and the whistleblowers.
In October 2015, despite Boies' legal threats and strong-arm tactics, Carreyrou published a "bombshell article" that the Edison blood testing device by Theranos gave inaccurate results, and that the company used commercially available machines for most testing, as well as other incriminating details. This was the first serious criticism of Theranos in the press, and a further series of articles by Carreyrou followed with more damning details.
Holmes denied all the claims, calling the newspaper a "tabloid" and promising the company would publish data on the accuracy of its tests. She appeared on Jim Cramer's Mad Money the same evening the article was published. Cramer said, "The article was pretty brutal", to which Holmes responded, "This is what happens when you work to change things, first they think you're crazy, then they fight you, and then all of a sudden you change the world."
In January 2016, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) sent a warning letter to Theranos after an inspection of its Newark, California laboratory uncovered irregularities with staff proficiency, procedures, and equipment. CMS regulators proposed a two-year ban on Holmes from owning or operating a lab after the company had not fixed problems in its California lab in March 2016. On The Today Show, Holmes said she was "devastated we did not catch and fix these issues faster" and the lab would be rebuilt with help from a new scientific and medical advisory board.
In July 2016, CMS banned Holmes from owning, operating, or directing a blood-testing service for a period of two years. The company appealed that decision to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services appeals board. Shortly thereafter, Walgreens ended its relationship with Theranos and closed its in-store blood collection centers. The FDA also ordered the company to cease using its Capillary Tube Nanotainer device, one of its core inventions.
In 2017, the State of Arizona filed suit against Theranos, alleging that the company had sold 1.5 million blood tests to Arizonans while concealing or misrepresenting important facts about those tests. The company settled the lawsuit in April of that year by agreeing to refund the cost of the tests to Arizona consumers, and to pay $225,000 in civil fines and attorney fees, for a total of $4.65 million. Other reported ongoing actions include civil and criminal investigations by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California, an unspecified FBI investigation, and two class action fraud lawsuits. Holmes denied any wrongdoing.
On May 16, 2017, approximately 99 percent of Theranos shareholders reached an agreement with the company to dismiss all current and potential litigation in exchange for shares of preferred stock. Holmes released a portion of her equity to offset any dilution of stock value to non-participating shareholders.
On March 14, 2018, Holmes settled an SEC lawsuit. The charges of fraud included the company's false claim that its technology was being used by the U.S. Department of Defense in combat situations. The company also lied when it claimed to have a $100 million revenue stream in 2014. That year, the company only made $100,000. The terms of Holmes' settlement included surrendering voting control of Theranos, a ban on holding an officer position in a public company for 10 years, and a $500,000 fine.
At its height, Theranos had more than 800 employees. It fired 340 staff members in October 2016 and an additional 155 employees in January 2017. In April 2018, Theranos filed a WARN Act notice with the State of California announcing its plans to permanently lay off 105 employees, leaving it with fewer than two dozen employees remaining. Most of the remaining employees were laid off in August 2018. On September 5, the company announced that it has begun the process of formally dissolving, with its remaining cash and assets to be distributed to its creditors.
On June 15, 2018, following an investigation by the U.S. Attorney's Office in San Francisco that lasted more than two years, a federal grand jury indicted Holmes and former Theranos chief operating officer and president Ramesh "Sunny" Balwani on nine counts of wire fraud and two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Prosecutors allege that Holmes and Balwani engaged in two criminal schemes, one to defraud investors, the other to defraud doctors and patients. After the indictment was issued, Holmes stepped down as CEO of Theranos but remained chairperson of the board.
Holmes partnered with Carlos Slim Helú in June 2015 to improve blood testing in Mexico. In October 2015, she announced #IronSisters to help women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers. She helped to draft and pass a law in Arizona to let people obtain and pay for lab tests without requiring insurance or healthcare provider approval, while misrepresenting the accuracy and effectiveness of the Theranos device, thereby in effect using the public as unwitting experimental subjects.
Holmes was associated with many powerful and well-connected individuals who supported her. The 12-member Theranos board included former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of Defense William Perry, former Secretary of State George Shultz, former Senators Sam Nunn and Bill Frist, retired Navy Admiral Gary Roughead, retired Marine Corps General James Mattis, and former CEOs Dick Kovacevich of Wells Fargo and Riley Bechtel of Bechtel. Her high-profile private investors included media-mogul Rupert Murdoch, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Walmart's Walton family, the billionaire Cox family of Cox Enterprises, and Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, all of whom lost tens to hundreds of millions of dollars each when the company folded. Holmes was a supporter of Hillary Clinton during Clinton's 2016 run for president and was on friendly terms with her daughter Chelsea Clinton,  and Barack Obama appointed her Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship.
Holmes's personal friendships were associated with the firm. She often attended parties at George Shultz's house as a family friend, and Shultz's grandson Tyler Shultz, a recent college graduate, landed his first job at Theranos. Tyler was one of the whistleblowers who spoke to WSJ investigative reporter John Carreyrou about corruption in the company. Upon learning this, Holmes threatened, through her lawyer David Boies, to sue the Shultz family and bankrupt them if his grandson continued to talk. George Shultz stayed loyal to Holmes and demanded his grandson cease talking to the Wall Street Journal.
Before being exposed and the subsequent collapse of Theranos, Holmes received widespread acclaim. In 2015, she was appointed a member of the Harvard Medical School Board of Fellows and was named one of TIME magazine's Most Influential People in the World in 2015. Holmes received the Under 30 Doers Award from Forbes and ranked on its 2015 list of the Most Powerful Women. She was also named Woman of the Year by Glamour, and received an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Pepperdine University after she delivered the commencement speech to the 2015 graduates. Holmes was awarded the 2015 Horatio Alger Award, making her the youngest recipient in its history. She previously had been named Fortune's Businessperson of the Year and listed on its 40 Under 40.
Following several journalistic and criminal investigations and civil suits regarding Theranos' business practices, she was charged with "massive fraud" by the Securities and Exchange Commission. In 2016, Fortune named Holmes one of the World's Most Disappointing Leaders.
Before the March 2018 settlement, Holmes held a 50% stock ownership in Theranos. Forbes listed her as one of America's Richest Self-Made Women in 2015 with a net worth of $4.5 billion. In June 2016, Forbes released an updated valuation of $800 million for Theranos, which made Holmes’s stake essentially worthless, because other investors owned preferred shares and would have been paid before Holmes, who owned only common stock. Holmes reportedly owed a $25 million debt to Theranos in connection with exercising options. She did not receive any company cash from the arrangement, nor did she sell any of her shares, including those associated with the debt.
Holmes was romantically involved with Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, a Pakistani-born Silicon Valley technology entrepreneur. She met him in 2002 at age 18, while still in school; he was 19 years her senior and married to another woman at the time. Sunny divorced his wife in 2002, became romantically involved with Holmes in 2003, about the same time Holmes dropped out of college, and the couple moved into an apartment around 2005. Although Balwani did not officially join the company until 2009, as Chief Operating Officer, he was advising Holmes behind the scenes before then. Holmes and Balwani ran the company jointly in a corporate culture of "secrecy and fear". He left Theranos in 2016 in the wake of investigations. The circumstances of his departure are unclear; Holmes states that she fired him, but Balwani states he left of his own accord.
Holmes has been featured in a number of media works.
In May 2018, author John Carreyrou released his book Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup to considerable acclaim. A movie based on the book is in development, with Jennifer Lawrence in the role of Holmes and Adam McKay serving as writer and director.
In January 2019, ABC News, Nightline, and Rebecca Jarvis released a podcast and documentary about the Holmes story called The Dropout. It includes interviews and deposition tapes of key figures including Elizabeth Holmes; Ramesh "Sunny" Balwani; Christian Holmes (Elizabeth’s brother); Tyler Shultz (Theranos whistleblower); Theranos board members Bill Frist, Gary Roughead, Robert Kovacevich; and others. There is also an interview with Jeff Coopersmith, the attorney representing Balwani.
On March 18, 2019, HBO premiered the documentary The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley, a two-hour documentary film first shown at the Sundance Film Festival on Jan 24, 2019. It portrays the claims and promises made by Holmes in the final years of Theranos, and how ultimately the entire company was brought down by the weight of many falsehoods. The documentary ends in 2018 with Holmes and Balwani being indicted for multiple alleged crimes.
- Albert Abrams, an inventor of a supposed diagnostic machine
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John Carreyrou’s first bombshell article in the Wall Street Journal about problems at the blood-testing startup Theranos
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