Elizabeth Holmes is the eccentric founder and (former) CEO of Theranos, a company that made headlines for its game-changing consumer blood test technology. In 2018, however, Holmes made the news for less than commendable reasons. As it turns out, her technology had more than a few holes that Holmes failed to disclose to the American public…and her shareholders. Beyond the fraud, the lies, the medical scandal and her steamy affairs, what is Elizabeth Holmes really like? Find out with these 42 bloody facts about Elizabeth Holmes.
Facts About Elizabeth Holmes
1. Not a Cinderella Story
Elizabeth Holmes is no “rags to riches” entrepreneur. Her father is the former Vice President of Enron, Christian Ramus Holmes IV. The first Christian Ramus Holmes, her great-great-grandfather, married the wealthy heiress to Fleischmann’s Yeast. In other words, big business is in Holmes’s blood.
2. I Wanna Be the Very Best That No One Ever Was
Although Holmes was born to privilege, she was not without personal ambition. When she was just 9 years old, she wrote to her father, “What I really want out of life is to discover something new, something that mankind didn’t know was possible to do.”
3. Woman of the World
Holmes didn’t start out in the health business. In fact, her first venture involved selling C++ programs out of her home. Did we mention she was only in high school?
4. Computer Got Your Tongue?
Before she graduated high school, Elizabeth Holmes undertook an intensive education in Mandarin. She completed three college Mandarin courses—including one at Stanford University—before she ever enrolled in college full-time.
5. Patch Up Your Reputation
Holmes’s filed her first patent application she was just 19 years old. In 2003, she registered the patent for a wearable drug patch, perhaps kicking off a career-long association between Holmes and easy-application tech…
6. School is for Losers
In 2001, Holmes enrolled in Stanford University’s School of Engineering. However, she dropped out in 2004. That tuition money didn’t go to waste. Holmes put the dough towards seed funds in her start-up consumer healthcare technology company.
7. Listen to Your Teachers, Kids
Holmes claimed to be motivated by her own “fear of needles” and began searching for a way to do blood tests with just prick-sized samples. Of course, she faced resistance from her own professors. Several of her medical professors at Stanford University—as well as other schools—straight-up told Holmes that extensive testing with the small amount of blood she wanted would be impossible. For support, Holmes instead turned to her engineering roots. It was her advisor and dean at the School of Engineering, Channing Robertson, who first supported her vision of a less bloody medical future.
8. Bad Blood Runs in the Family
Holmes’s fear of needles is allegedly hereditary. According to sources, both Holmes’s mother and grandmother would faint at even the sight of syringe needles. That’s one way to turn family into business.
9. Up to My Neck in Inspiration
Steve Job is Holmes’s role model in business and in fashion. Her penchant for turtlenecks is directly copied from his wardrobe.
10. A Case for Holmes
Holmes kept a close eye on her Theranos employees. Her surveillance methods included things like making administrative staff become Facebook friends with Theranos employees…just to report to Holmes on what was beings said by workers off-hours and online. In Carreyrou’s infamous article, he writes that she “demanded absolute loyalty from her employees and if she sensed that she no longer had it from someone, she could turn on them in a flash.” Literal dossiers of intelligence were gathered people for “leverage.”
11. Fast Money
From 2006 to 2010, Theranos jumped from just $6 million in funding to owning more than $92 million in capital assets. By 2011, Holmes had even managed to secure the former Secretary of State George Schultz for the board of directors. Recognizing her ability to network with powerful (and rich) investors, the media applauded Holmes for being “the most illustrious board in US corporate history.”
12. Start While You’re Young
In 2014, Holmes was recognized in Forbes magazine as the world’s youngest self-made billionaire.
13. The Loveless Wonder?
Holmes projected the image of someone who made work her life. According to one news outlet, she never left her office and didn’t even own a TV in her own house. Unfortunately, it was also reported that she doesn’t go out on dates, so take it with a grain of salt.
14. The Sweet Taste of Success
What goes into the diet of a scandalous businesswoman? According to Holmes, no meat or coffee. Holmes is a vegan and subsist on what one source described as a “pulverized concoction of cucumber, parsley, kale, spinach, romaine lettuce, and celery.”
15. Little Girl on Top
Holmes’s ambition sent waves through her family from an early age. At age 7, she filled a notebook with ideas for a time machine. At age 9, her ambitions became more realistic; she made it clear to everyone that she simply wanted to be a billionaire. When playing Monopoly with her brother and cousin, Holmes got so competitive that she often stormed off and walked right through a screen door.
16. Business Woman’s Best Friend
“Balto” is the name of Holmes’s pet husky, whom she insists is a wolf. Balto cost anywhere between $600 to $1,300. He had better be worth every penny: the pup flunked out of his search-and-rescue program. At least he found a good career at corporate!
17. Mind Games
Holmes was not exactly a dream boss. According to 100 employee reviews, the office culture was toxic. One worker, who served there for six years, compared their first day to the job as “becom[ing] a victim of gaslighting.”
18. My Bloody Throwback
An ex-Theranos employee recalls a bloody, bizarre incident with Holmes in a CVS. He had just been hit was a car and was covered with blood. As the man stumbled into the store and encountered Holmes by freak chance, his ex-boss didn’t miss a beat. Holmes just started chatting him up—as if he wasn’t covered in blood and injuries.
19. Someone Is Going to Need Therapy
Holmes entered the blood business to “democratize healthcare.” Accordingly, the name of her company—Theranos—is a portmanteau of “therapy” and “diagnosis.” Nothing like giving those remedies back to the people, right?
20. Rooting Through Apple’s Compost
Holmes’s obsession with Steve Jobs and Apple Inc. extended to her hiring practices. Not only did she poach former Apple employees for her start-up, she said she wanted blood-testing device to be known as “the iPod of health care.”
21. We’ve Got Bad Blood
In 2018, both Holmes and her ex-lover (and ex-COO) Sunny Balwani were indicted by a federal grand jury for om counts of wire fraud and two conspiracy to commit wire fraud. The charges revolve their alleged distribution of knowingly false blood tests.
22. From “Not Guilty” to “I Do”
In March 2019, Elizabeth Holmes faced 11 felony charges related to fraud. Yet even she found time for love: it was announced Holmes had gotten engaged to a man in “the hotel business.” Twitter users found photos of Holmes and her fiancé at Burning Man, and he’s been identified as 27-year-old Billy Evans, heir to the Evans Hotel Group.
23. House of Broken Hearts
Holmes’s affair with her COO was allegedly more than an office fling. According to one source, they shared a house together…or rather a mansion in Los Altos, one of the priciest housing markets in the US. Seeing as Theranos was footing the bill for their love nest, things look somewhat problematic…
24. Straight Outta Hollywood
To produce her PR videos, Holmes’s recruited an Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker. Errol Morris is behind one of the most influential documentaries of all time, The Thin Blue Line and won the 2003 Best Documentary Feature Academy Award for The Fog of War. Morris’s involvement in Theranos has cast a pall on his reputation for “hard truths.”
25. The Deal of a Lifetime
At the time of writing, Holmes is facing serious charges. Each of her 11 counts of fraud carries a maximum 20-year sentence. If found guilty on all charges—not taking plea deals or concurrent sentencing into consideration—Holmes could go to prison for 220 years.
26. I See You
For people who get up and close with Elizabeth Holmes, a common theme emerges: she rarely blinks. Conversation partners report how her eyes would just deadlock onto them, rarely closing as she spoke.
27. The Cast of Losers
Theranos’s board of directors includes some all-star “victims.” Among them: education secretary Betsey DeVos, Rupert Murdoch, the Waltons (the family who owns Wal-Mart), and even Richard Nixon’s Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger.
28. Not So Original
As it turns out, Holmes’s consumer blood test couldn’t detect enough blood molecules in the samples to give a proper reading. Theranos took diluted samples and ran them through a device by Siemens, AKA the technology used by most companies. To put it simply, Theranos wasn’t doing the new science it claimed to be doing.
29. Dexter’s Lab is Closed
By January 2016, the federal government got involved in Theranos dealings. The Center of Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a two-year ban to Holmes from owning or working in labs due to serious irregularities relating to staffing, procedure, and equipment.
30. Lead No More
Holmes’ ban from labs escalated in July 2016: the US government banned her from owning, operating, or even directing blood-testing services altogether.
31. Big Money, Big Problems
Did you live in Arizona? According to the state, Elizabeth Holmes might have meddled with your blood. In 2017, Theranos was sued for allegedly selling 1.5 million faulty blood tests to Arizonans…knowingly. Theranos refunded the costs of all the blood test and paid $255,000 in fines, which amounts to a $4.65 million payout in total. This was just the beginning of suits for Holmes…
32. Stolen Valor
In March 2018, Holmes was forced to settle a lawsuit with the SEC. The company was charged for fraudulently claiming the US Department of Defense was using Theranos technology in combat settings (they were not).
33. What’s a Few Misplaced Zeroes
The lies also came in terms of numbers. At one point, Theranos claimed to have made $100 million. In reality, the company made barely a fraction of that report amounted at just $100,000. To pay for this boo-boo (if we can put it lightly), Holmes surrendered her voting control of Theranos and was banned from holding an officer position at any publicly traded company for the next ten years. Imagine if that was the least of your problems…
34. The Higher They Staff, The Harder They Fall
On September 5, 2018, Theranos announced that the company was officially dissolving. In its heyday, they had more than 800 workers. 340 were fired in October 2016 and 155 more were laid off in January 2019. By April 2018, less than two dozen folks remained.
35. Too Young to Fail
Back in better years for Holmes, she was the recipient of the 2015 Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans. At 31 years old, she was the youngest winner of that award in its entire history.
36. May-December Scam
Holmes was just 18 years old and still a student when met her future partner in love and business, Sunny Balwani in 2002. He was 19 years older and married to another woman. Balwani divorced his wife the same year. He and Holmes became an item in the year after.
37. Privately Traded, Privacy Settings
Theranos was founded all the way back in 2004 under the name “Real-Time Cures” in Palo Alto, California. The company revolved around Holmes’s idea that medical tests could be done with just a small drop of blood. Months later, the company name was changed to the now infamous “Theranos”…but it would be 9 years until the company became “public.” For almost a decade, Theranos operated without a single press release or even website.
38. Try Flowers Next Time
Holmes received flack for the way she handled a chief employee’s suicide. By 2013, one of Holmes’s chief scientists—Ian Gibbons—tried to end his own life before a meeting in which he was to be fired. He was one of the most vocal employees who voiced concerns about the inaccuracies of Theranos technology. Gibbons passed one week after his attempt. Holmes’s first line of communication to Gibbons’ widow was not to give condolence. Instead, the widow received a phone call “demanding that she immediately return any and all confidential Theranos property” from her late husband’s possession.
39. Bark Blood
Remember Holmes’s pet “wolf” (as she liked to call him), Balto? He followed Holmes everywhere, including the office and the lab. The headstrong canine would prance around Theranos like he owned the place…and he contaminated samples with his fur along the way. As if that weren’t enough, Balto would urinate and defecate in the middle of board meetings.
40. Which Octave is the Truth?
Is that really her voice? It’s been alleged that Holmes deliberately speaks in a lower register when she is in public. According to a former Theranos colleague, Holmes’s private voice is actually higher than the one she uses for business. According to her own family, however, there is no distinction and her public vocals are the real deal.
41. A Call to Big Daddy Can’t Keep This Quiet
The beginning of the end came for Elizabeth Holmes in 2015. John Carreyrou of The Wall Street Journal was tipped from a medical expert, who had serious doubts about the Theranos blood testing device. A months-long investigation ensued. Holmes waged a legal and financial campaign to suppresss the exposé. Coincidentally, Wall Street Journal owner Rupert Murdoch was the board at Theranos. Holmes tried to nudge her investor to nip the story in the bud. In the end, Murdoch decided to leave the matter to his editors, trusting the truth to work itself out.
42. From the Boardroom to the Bedroom
Holmes had an affair with her company’s COO, Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani. They kept their romance a secret from the other board members. How did things burn out? It depends on who you ask. As Theranos came under legal and public scrutiny, Holmes said she fired Balwani. Meanwhile, Balwani said he left on his own terms.