Elizabeth Holmes Speaks for Herself


Who really is to blame for the dramatic collapse of blood-testing startup Theranos? Is Elizabeth Holmes, the female boss founder facing 11 counts of wire fraud for allegedly misleading investors? Or are the company employees signing up for various reports suggesting that the technology has done well? What about Theranos ’board members — like George Shultz, James Mattis, and Henry Kissinger — who were paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to advise the company? Or Ramesh Balwani, Holmes ’business partner and former girlfriend, separately facing 11 counts of fraud?

Each of these theories has been tested over the past few days as Holmes stands, 11 weeks into a trial that has captured Silicon Valley and beyond. This marks the first time he has told his story for himself since Theranos formally shut down in 2018, the same year he was accused of fraud.

Holmes began his testimony Friday afternoon, pushing records of people appearing outside the courtroom on Monday and Tuesday mornings. Spectators began lining up starting at 2 a.m. this week, trembling as they waited in one of the limited seats at the San Jose Courthouse. The crowd was filled with reporters, concerned citizens, and someone shouting “God bless you, lady boss!” for Holmes arrived on Tuesday. “Valley has never seen a high-profile business fraud case like this before,” said historian Margaret O’Mara, who compared the scene to the iPhone’s early release. Holmes benefited from the hype when his company collapsed in the early 2000s. Now he finds himself in a different kind of hype cycle.

As a young CEO, Holmes has always described himself as a genius. He appeared on the covers of magazines and welcomed the comparison to Steve Jobs. But in court, Holmes — who is now 37 years old, and no longer wears his former trademark black turtlenecks — highlighted aspects of his work that he delegated to others.

When asked who was responsible for validating that the blood tests worked as promised, Holmes pointed to Adam Rosendorff, director of Theranos ’lab. A failed partnership with Walgreens came to Daniel Young, the “surprisingly smart” employee Holmes put in charge. The decision not to disclose that Theranos sometimes uses third-party devices was blamed on the company’s legal advice, which Holmes said told him the information contained a “trade secret.” Balwani, not Holmes, oversees the company’s financial projects. And the famous marketing that suggests Theranos used “a drop of blood”? Holmes testified that he did not personally sign every piece of marketing material produced by Chiat Day, the expensive advertising company he hired.

This kind of scattering of blame is very common in fraud cases, said David Sklansky, who teaches and writes about criminal law at Stanford. “This is probably the most common type of defense attached to cases involving allegations of large -scale financial fraud,” he said. “Whether it works depends on how credible it is to the jury.”





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