Theranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes has been on a wild roller coaster ride the last few years, hitting very high highs and extremely low lows.
And there could be more damage to her reputation on the way, according to John Carreyrou, the Wall Street Journal investigative reporter who was one of the first journalists to uncover Theranos’ fraudulent nature.
He points out the ongoing criminal investigation into her and her company could yield more indictments.
“I think the charges would be securities fraud and lying to federal officials,” said Carreyrou. And that could lead to a trial.
Earlier this week, the Securities and Exchange Commission charged Holmes and former Theranos President Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani with “massive fraud,” alleging they misled investors and patients with “exaggerated or...false statements about the company’s technology, business, and financial performance.”
It all started in 2013, when Theranos started offering blood tests at select Walgreens around the country. The company claimed it had invented a way to perform more than 250 tests with just a few drops of blood, which would revolutionize the healthcare industry.
By 2014, the company began to crescendo. It caught the attention of investors like Rupert Murdoch and current Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Its value ballooned to $9 billion, and with half the equity, Holmes became the youngest self-made female billionaire in the world. She was on the cover of Forbes and Fortune and was touted by some as the next Steve Jobs.
Then reports like Carreyrou’s found that Theranos technology didn’t actually work, bringing its upward trajectory to a screeching halt.
Perhaps hidden by the sheen of glossy magazine covers and the flood of investor cash, the company was bringing in revenues of just $100,000. According to SEC charges, Holmes and Balwani told investors sales hit $100 million in 2014.
And Carreyrou says that wasn’t the worst problem. Last year, after conducting millions of blood tests, the company was forced to void or correct most of the results it sent back to patients.
“That’s the most egregious part of this fraud -- gambling with people’s lives,” he said.
Holmes settled with the SEC, paying a $500,000 fine, handing over million of shares of her stock in Theranos, and agreeing not to serve on any public company board for 10 years. Balwani has not reached an agreement.
But to many, Holmes’ punishment was just a “slap on the wrist.” Carreyrou pointed out that she’s still CEO of the company.
“It’s remarkable...I don’t know if there’s been a precedent in the history of American capitalism,” he said.
How was Holmes able to pull off such a feat?
“I think she is a young woman who had enormous ambition, who had a vision, and she pursued that vision,” suggested Carreyrou. “Come 2009, 2010, as this gold rush built in Silicon Valley, she stopped listening to sound advice, she started cutting corners.”
Carreyrou added that Holmes was dating Balwani, who was 19 years her senior, and he turned out to be a bad influence on her.
“At that point I think she crossed the red line.”
Carreyrou is also the author of “Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup,” which takes a deep look at the scandal. The book comes out in October this year.
For full interview, click here.