How did Elizabeth Holmes manipulate her investors
People who cheat are not unsympathetic per se. "Trying to trick the system" can have a certain charm about believing that the system deserves to be tricked. Most of the time there is a reason why scammers get away with it for so long: Because they have an extraordinary charisma, are intelligent, charismatic. Among the victims of the Theranos fraud, however, would have been people who are sick. That's why Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of the biotech company, is not portrayed as a charming trickster or even a heroine today. The podcast The dropout, the new HBO documentary The Inventor and John Carreyrou's book "Bad Blood", which has just appeared in German, instead show Holmes primarily as one who told a good story notoriously beyond the truth.
The story she offered her audience was captivating: At the age of 19, Holmes founded Theranos from her room in the dormitory in Stanford. With the help of her mentor, Professor Channing Robertson, the company would usher in a medical revolution. The idea: portable devices that test blood for diseases with just a few drops, without any needles. And at a fraction of the cost of traditional blood tests. A welcome innovation, because who likes to have needles stuck into veins? Theranos would have revolutionized the medical diagnostics market. If the technology had worked.
Since the investigative journalist John Carreyrou in October 2015 with a report in Wall Street Journal began to expose the company's fraud, the Theranos story does not let go of the public imagination. His book "Bad Blood" now tells how Holmes has been betraying investors, his own employees and the public since 2003, losing several hundred million US dollars in investments and telling the same story until she was charged: It will be. However, anyone who reads "Bad Blood" quickly understands that this could never have happened. John Carreyrou lets the key players within the company have their say. They describe how they noticed Elizabeth Holmes making promises which the devices she developed could not deliver - and how Holmes removed doubters from her team. This is how Carreyrou describes how Holmes demonstrated her test device live to potential investors in Switzerland. The device, which she called "Edison", did not work, nor had it ever worked reliably, which is why employees sent the falsified test results from the headquarters in California by email. The investors were enthusiastic, the employees embarrassed. When the Chief Financial Officer Henry Mosley approached his boss Holmes, she replied, "Henry, you are not a team player." He was fired on the spot.
But Holmes not only got rid of those who doubted her, she surrounded herself above all with those who adored her. This is what Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney shows in his new film The Inventor. He locates Holmes' rise within the logic of Silicon Valley and his "Fake it till you make it" mentality, which values ambition more than products and which tempts you not to look too closely when the hype is big enough. And Holmes knew how to feed this hype. As a young, conventionally attractive woman with an exceptionally deep voice, ice-blue, seemingly never blinking eyes and an unshakable self-confidence, she presented herself not only as a tech genius in the tradition of Steve Jobs, but also as a feminist role model, as a woman who is in Silicon Valleys Boys' Club had managed against all odds. Her supporters were mainly men, older, very influential men, whose power she wrapped around her like a protective shield. Its board of directors included former US ministers Henry Kissinger, James Mattis, and George Shultz; the publisher Rupert Murdoch was an early investor; Vice President Joe Biden stopped by for a tour; Ex-President Bill Clinton questioned her at a meeting of his foundation.
Because Gibney's documentary shows that too: Many self-confident men who claim to be able to track down genius, who compare Holmes to Thomas Edison or Leonardo da Vinci and even today do not speak of her without deference. However, Holmes' evoked attraction is not tangible in the retellings. The viewer encounters her face in polished film recordings that Theranos used for marketing, or in recordings of conferences. Gibney also uses the audio recordings of reporter Ken Auletta, who wrote Holmes in 2013 for the new Yorker portrayed. With her deep organ, she makes one vague, phrase-like statement after another in this material, remaining reserved, serious and reserved. The charisma ascribed to her remains hearsay.
"Your story," says Auletta, "was so irresistible." One is tempted to ask whether this was no less due to Holmes himself than to the receptivity to her story. Maybe you didn't want to resist her. Holmes appears more as a rule than an exception, as one who used the system, not one who betrayed it. After hundreds of millions of dollars lost, dozens of magazine covers and the obligatory TED talk, Elizabeth Holmes turns out to be not the heroine Silicon Valley was looking for. But maybe as the heroine who deserved it.
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