Hockey-stick forecast, team player, Theranos, Edison, Minibox, DAZKPTL, VDIVICI, Wallgreens-Theranos deal, fake baritone, Frat pack, 4S, Safeway-Theranos deal, phlebotomy, folie à deux, Prothrombin time
I came across the name Elizabeth Holmes in 2018 when her company “Theranos” was shut down. Did not know much about this company until that time, perhaps because they were yet to actually deliver something big. The more I began to read about it the more it got me interested. This book is written by an investigative journalist John Carreyrou of The Wall Street Journal, who began questioning the technology and practices used by Theranos in 2015, which led the company once valued at 9 billion USD to go bankrupt and eventually be shut. Holmes and Sunny Balwani, the number two executive are scheduled to face trial in July 2020 on nine counts of wire fraud and two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. They may face up to 20 years jail time.
The very first thing that is great about this book is that the author is not trying to blow his own trumpet. Though he deserves to be credited for going against a high profile company that had connections at very high places. The CEO Holmes herself was close to the Clintons, was appointed as a U.S. ambassador for global entrepreneurship by president Obama and the company Theranos which had board members like former U.S. Secretary of State George P. Shultz, William Perry (former U.S. Secretary of Defense), Henry Kissinger (former U.S. Secretary of State), Sam Nunn (former U.S. Senator), Bill Frist (former U.S. Senator), Gary Roughead (Admiral, USN, retired), James Mattis (General, USMC) and so on. Funny enough, The Wallstreet Journal’s earlier article had elevated Holmes status to that of a rock star and also Rupert Murdoch, the media mogul who owns The Wallstreet Journal through his company News Corporation, had invested 120 million USD in Theranos. Rather the author credits the ex-employees of Theranos who either had resigned due to ethical reasons or were fired for contradicting with the management on ethical grounds. Stories of sufferings of people like Alan Beam, Erika Cheung, Tyler Shultz and others, without whose support the bubble of Theranos would never have been burst. Also on Ian Gibbons who paid the ultimate price.
It seems everyone was so desperate to see a self-made billionaire woman CEO that they forgot to check the credibility of the product she was working on. The book details on how Elizabeth managed to win the trust of old and important men, who were sold on the noble idea to be in the board of a company and yet did not understand a thing about the technology itself. It was the presence of these men which validated the company in the eyes of the investors without any real proof. Eventually investors lost 1 billion USD. The book also details about the devices Theranos built i.e. Edison and Minibox. None of them functioned as Theranos had claimed. Yet Theranos went live, testing blood of patients unethically i.e. using devices from Siemens or by tinkering with devices from other manufacturers. Whatever limited tests they performed on their devices was riddled with errors. Another important theme the author covers is the dictatorial ways of Sunny Balwani who was internally running the company or at least so it appears. If you read this book, chances are you can associate this man with some of the characters you might have seen in corporate offices. An absolute jerk. If you work in tech industry and have never encountered such a character, you are lucky! And then there are HR managers and IT department who almost behave like bouncers in some cases.
Conclusion & Rating:
This book is a must read for startup founders to know the line between ethical and unethical, for investors to know the right kind of questions to ask before investing, for employees to know when to leave an unethical employer and for the managers to know how NOT to run a technical company.