This is the story of the rise, duplicity, and fall of Theranos. I discovered Theranos and its founder Elizabeth Holmes shortly before John Carreyrou’s Wall Street Journal story brought them down. It probably wasn’t from this Stanford article but this quote came from it and probably went out on the Twitterverse where I soon found it.
“I think that the minute that you have a backup plan, you’ve admitted that you’re not going to succeed,” Holmes says.
I read that and immediately didn’t trust her. She had no backup plan for the fact that her company was completely fraudulent and look where she ended up. Taking a few minutes to ask yourself, “What could go wrong? Say it doesn’t work, then what? What’s plan B and C for what we are doing?” This is not admitting you’re not going to succeed. It’s being smart and self-aware. It’s saying you’re not God. You are human and will make mistakes. Sometimes things don’t work out and when that happens being prepared for that event. I knew as soon as I read that quote that she wasn’t all she was claiming to be. Then I read a bit more about her and Theranos and I thought it was too good to be true. Then the article came out and I laughed that I was right about her. I followed the story for years, enjoying the schadenfreude.
So, anyway back to the book. It was a really good examination of everything that happened to lead to her fall. She was a masterful conman. I believe she did think she was going to change the world but it was a faith built on fantasy. And then she sold the fantasy to anyone willing to buy it. And because of her connections, lots of people bought it.
There are lots of bad guys in this story. There are also lots of people of integrity.
Who comes out looking good? Tyler Shultz, grandson of George Shultz, was the main whistleblower, he did the right thing even under a lot of pressure. His Grandfather, George Shultz, had an opportunity to either care about money or care about family and he chose money. He came out looking awful. Deceiving Tyler about the lawyers hiding upstairs is unforgivable. Sure, if a family member is a murderer or something, maybe then a trick like that is acceptable, but in this case? Never.
Oddly, Rupert Murdock came out looking good. I thought I’d never say those words. But when pressured to tank a story in the Wall Street Journal by Theranos’ lawyers. He said no, several times even though it was going to cost him money. He may be an evil man, but he at least knows that the value of the Wall Street Journal depends on it being free from influence to publish the news no matter who gets upset. I was impressed. (not that he cares what I think)
Elizabeth Holmes is obviously a con-artist and a terrible human being. Probably a psychopath. Sunny Balwani is an asshole and apparently an idiot. The best part of the book was how his employees mocked him to his face and he had no idea. David Boies the attorney representing them is a soulless scumbag. The things he did should have gotten him disbarred. But when you have his kind of money you can do what you want, I suppose. In researching him I discovered this in Wikipedia (for what that’s worth):
In 2017, Boies’ firm reportedly directed private intelligence company Black Cube to spy on alleged victims of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual abuse and on reporters who were investigating Weinstein’s actions. Over the course of a year, Weinstein had Black Cube and other agencies ““target,” or collect information on, dozens of individuals, and compile psychological profiles that sometimes focussed on their personal or sexual histories.” A few days later, The New York Times announced it had “terminated its relationship” with Boies’ firm
When you’re attacking Harvey Weinstein’s victims, yeah, you’re a terrible person.
James Mattis attacking a Lt Colonel who was doing his job and following the law? Yeah, fuck him, too.
It was a really good book and it’s nice that at least one person got brought down for being bad to America and the world. Wish it happened more often.