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.|
|Alma mater||Stanford University (withdrew)|
|Title||Founder and ex-CEO of Theranos|
Christian Holmes IV |
Noel Anne Daoust
Elizabeth Anne Holmes (//); born February 3, 1984) is the founder and former CEO of Theranos, a now-defunct company known for its false claims to have devised revolutionary blood tests that used very small amounts of blood. In 2015, Forbes named Holmes as the youngest and wealthiest self-made female billionaire in America due to 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 2016 when a series of journalistic and regulatory investigations questioned the veracity of Holmes's claims and whether she had potentially misled investors and the government about Theranos's blood-testing technology. In 2018, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission charged Theranos and Holmes with deceiving investors by "massive fraud" through false or exaggerated claims, which Holmes settled 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 COO Ramesh Balwani on nine counts of wire fraud and two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
Holmes was personally connected with and supported by many powerful and influential people including former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of State George Shultz, former Marine Corps General James Mattis, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Holmes was in a relationship with her COO Ramesh "Sunny" Balwani, who she met when she was 18 and he was 37. Holmes has been the subject of a book Bad Blood and an upcoming film.
Holmes was born in Washington, D.C. Holmes' father, Christian Rasmus Holmes IV, was a vice president at Enron, followed by executive positions in government agencies such as USAID, the EPA, and USTDA. Her mother, Noel Anne Daoust, worked as a Congressional committee staffer. Her great-grandfather, Christian Rasmus Holmes, was a Danish physician who married Bettie Fleischmann, the wealthy daughter of Charles Louis Fleischmann, founder of Fleischmann’s Yeast. 
She attended St. John's School in Houston. During high school, Holmes was interested in computer programming and started her first business selling C++ compilers to Chinese universities. In 2001, Holmes applied to Stanford University and studied chemical engineering, working in a lab with Ph.D. candidates and Channing Robertson, dean at the engineering school.
After the end of her freshman year, Holmes worked in a lab at the Genome Institute of Singapore on testing for severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) through the collection of blood samples with syringes. She filed her first patent 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.
Founding of Theranos
Holmes founded the company in Palo Alto, California as Real-Time Cures to "democratize healthcare." Holmes described her fear of needles as one of her motivations for founding Theranos. 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 several of her professors at Stanford including Phyllis Gardner, most of them said that it was "virtually impossible to do so with any real efficacy". However, Holmes succeeded in getting Robertson to back her idea.
In April 2004, she 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.
Funding and expansion
Theranos experienced a spectacular rise before its ultimate downfall. By December 2004, Holmes had raised $6 million to fund Theranos. 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. She 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 make in-store blood sample collection centers. Media attention increased in 2014 when Holmes appeared on the cover 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.
Decline of Theranos
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 looked suspicious. Carreyrou spoke to ex-employee whistleblowers and obtained company documents such as email exchanges. On learning of the investigation, Holmes initiated through her powerful lawyer David Boies a campaign to stop Carreyrou from publishing by way of legal and financial threats against the WSJ and the whistleblowers. In October 2015, despite legal threats and strong-arm tactics by Boies, Carreyrou published a "bombshell article" that the Edison blood testing device by Theranos gave inaccurate results, that the company used commercially available machines for most testing, and 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 WSJ a "tabloid", and said 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", and 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 blood lab after the company had not fixed problems within its California lab in March 2016. On The Today Show, Holmes said that she was "devastated we did not catch and fix these issues faster" and that the lab would be rebuilt with help from a new scientific and medical advisory board. In July 2016, the 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 is reportedly standing by all of her company's claims and has 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 a SEC lawsuit. The charges of fraud included claiming the company's technology was being used by the U.S. Department of Defense in combat situations despite never having been used (Defense Secretary Jim Mattis pushed for use of the technology although it was never implemented). Another false claim included claiming a $100 million revenue stream in 2014 that was actually $100,000. The terms of the 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. The company ceased operations entirely at the end of August 2018, 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 COO 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 chair 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 Therenos device, 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, former Navy Admiral Gary Roughead, former 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, Trumps' 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 10s to 100s of millions of dollars each when the company folded. Holmes was a supporter of Hillary Clinton during her 2016 run for President, and was on friendly terms with her daughter Chelsea Clinton.
In some cases she had personal friendships. She often attended parties at George Shultz's house as a family friend. 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. On 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 WSJ.
Before the collapse of Theranos, Holmes received widespread acclaim. She 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. Holmes was awarded the 2015 Horatio Alger Award, being the youngest recipient in its history. She had also previously been named Fortune's "Businessperson of the Year" and "40 Under 40" lists.
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".
Prior to the March 2018 settlement, Holmes held a 50 percent 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, an Indian-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. They became romantically involved in 2003, about the same time Holmes dropped out of college. Sunny divorced his wife in 2004 and the couple moved into an apartment around 2005. Although Sunny didn't officially join the company until 2009, as Chief Operating Officer, he was advising Holmes behind the scenes prior to then. Holmes and Sunny ran the company jointly in a corporate culture of "secrecy and fear". He left Theranos in 2016 in the wake of the WSJ investigations, fired by Holmes according to her but on his own according to him.
Bad Blood: book and movie
In May 2018 author John Carreyrou released his book Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup. A movie based on the book is in development with Jennifer Lawrence in the role of Holmes and to be directed by Adam McKay.
- 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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