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Silicon Valley’s fallen star
Elizabeth Holmes, founder of healthcare company Theranos, was “the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire”, says ABC’s Rebecca Jarvis in The Dropout. Holmes is now on trial for fraud in California, and this six-part podcast explains the rise and fall of the woman Forbes hailed as “the next Steve Jobs”.
People were obsessed with her. At school she was a track star and top of the class. At 19 she dropped out of Stanford University and started Theranos, a supposedly revolutionary blood-testing tech company. With a pinprick of blood and some whizzy hi-tech kit, she could do everything from screen for STDs to checking for early signs of cancer on the spot. White House heavyweights Henry Kissinger and George Shultz joined a star-studded board. Rupert Murdoch was her biggest investor.
By 2015 Theranos was worth $9bn and Holmes $4.5bn. She’d hired Jobs’s former right-hand man, Avie Tevanian, and started wearing Jobs’s trademark Issey Miyake black sweaters every day to look the part. But it was all a sham. The tech never worked, so Holmes used other company’s machines to dupe regulators. A million patients got bogus results. David Boies, Harvey Weinstein’s litigator, was hired to go after whistleblowers. It took George Shulz’s grandson Tyler, a Theranos employee, to leak the story to The Wall Street Journal – its owner, Murdoch, let the story run.
People died. In episode three we hear that Ian Gibbons, an illustrious British scientist hired to make Theranos’s testing kit for purpose, felt so bullied by Holmes that he killed himself. Theranos didn’t even send flowers. “People like that should be in jail,” says his widow, Rochelle. “They shouldn’t be allowed to ruin people’s lives.”