Bad blood, Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, John Carreyrou, Will Damron, narrator
This is a very well researched investigation into Theranos, a biotech company started by Elizabeth Holmes while still in her teens. She always wanted to be the next Steve Jobs and from her successful fundraising for her start-up company, she seemed well on her way to achieving that goal before she was 20! Elizabeth was a superb saleswoman. So many well known and famous people supported her that was hard to doubt her unique vision for the future of blood testing. She was very well connected with the support of the likes of Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton, Joe Biden, Barack Obama, Stanford and Harvard professors and well known first rate lawyers; some of these people associated with the image of the company, even sat on the Board.
Really smart people fell under the spell of this young woman whom they believed to be a genius. For years they allowed her to make false promises about a unique medical device which when developed would be monumental and would save lives, but it did not yet exist! It was, in reality, in the developmental stage because the results of the device tests were often inaccurate, putting patients’ lives at risk. Theranos hid the faulty results with manipulative technology or excuses, which were accepted by those eager to climb on her bandwagon. Somehow she managed to convince venture capitalists and investors to fund her efforts without any real proof of success. The employees, all from the best schools, who had achieved high honors and awards, went through a revolving door frequently. Those who disagreed and suspected that the efficacy of the devices was being misrepresented and those who pointed out flaws in the process in which they were involved, were quickly dismissed and escorted from the property after signing away their rights. Threatening them with ruination usually did the trick.
When Tyler Schultz, the grandson of George Schultz went to work for the company, he never thought that it would pit him against his grandfather. Regardless of Tyler’s suspicions about the nefarious behavior of the Theranos executives, George, who sat on the Board of Theranos, refused to take him seriously and often acted against his grandson’s best interest and on behalf of Theranos. Yet, Tyler, seeing mounting evidence of dishonesty within the lab and test results, and growing more and more aware of misleading statements about the company’s progress, defied his grandfather. He left the company and aided in Carreyrou’s investigation into its corrupt policies.
The law firm of Boies Schiller Flexner LLP represented Theranos. A heavy hitter in the legal field, Carreyrou believed they were hiring private investigators, following whistleblowers and threatening them with lawsuits if they didn’t sign non disclosure agreements, abide by those already signed or cease and desist from any action against the company. Boies was even on the Board of Directors of Theranos and seemed to be acting on their behalf, even using their offices to help promote fake tests doctored results.
The Board members of Theranos had little power to alter anything that went on at Theranos because Elizabeth had manipulated them to insure her majority control of all decisions. However, they didn’t seem inclined to investigate the wrongdoing, preferring to ride the wave of support from others on Elizabeth’s behalf.
After more than a decade of deceit and lies, perpetuated by Elizabeth, the CEO, and Sunny, her not so secret paramour, who ran the company with her as COO and President, they were finally exposed. In 2015, the author, John Carreyrou published an article in the Wall Street Journal which exposed Elizabeth Holmes and her massive scheme to defraud the public with her dreams of developing miracle performing medical devices that she promoted, although they were flawed. Even after she was exposed, she was still able to manipulate the news and facts to continue her fundraising and gain support for her business efforts; yet that business was actually growing less and less viable. Elizabeth had been able to get huge companies to support her almost unconditionally. Some big names like Walmart, Safeway and Walgreens fell under her spell. Her powerful connections enabled her to perpetuate her fraud long after it should have been stopped. Investigations were stymied, those involved were threatened, and negative news was hidden.
Although she never provided proof of the efficacy of her testing devices and availed the company and herself of every loophole she could find to avoid providing documents to those who asked, she gained the support of powerful people who accepted her excuses and explanations. It was not what she knew, but whom she knew that aided her advancement. She was hailed by organizations, given awards, honored at dinners. She was an expert at promoting herself and her company. She did not care that she took the lives of others in her hands in her quest to become the new heroine in the image of Steve Jobs, she only cared about her own success.
Today, there are civil and criminal charges against Elizabeth and Sunny. However they are still not in the final stages of litigation. The criminal trial will not take place until the end of the summer, in 2020. The civil suits are currently in progress and she is representing herself so she can save her resources for her criminal defense.
The firm and its lawyers operated in a strong arm manner, controlling all those who disagreed or discovered improper practices, by using intimidation to prevent them from revealing the extent of dishonesty within the walls and laboratories of Theranos. They were threatened with disaster if they did not sign all agreements which would make them impotent and unable to reveal the fraud. Greed was front and center on the part of all the participants and there was no evidence of anyone’s concern for ethical practices by either the lawyers or Elizabeth and Sunny.
It is mind-boggling when one considers that this corrupt company gained so much power without providing a shred of true evidence of successful testing of their devices. They could not provide proof of their claims because statistics disproved them so they hid them and never made them public. Those who supported them truly had the wool pulled over their eyes, but they were willing participants, eager to climb on board this train which would revolutionize blood testing, and they were happy to remain blind to the facts. One will ask how this could happen when one turns the last page. It feels like it is science fiction, not non-fiction. There were fake labs, manipulated test results, false theories and non existent products, yet the company was promoted and supported by upstanding citizens of society for fifteen years before it was exposed and brought down. This arrogant, self serving, power hungry, greedy young woman, from the age of nineteen, operated with smoke and mirrors and succeeded in convincing even those who discovered her deceit to continue to support her.
This is not an easy audio for a narrator because the material was repetitive at times and dry, yet he succeeded because of his use of inflection and stress at the appropriate times to make the story truly interesting and to make himself a neutral participant. The book reads like a mystery novel, rather than investigative reporting because the story is intriguing and often hard to believe.