Personal notes of disgraced ex-CEO Elizabeth Holmes taken during the sudden rise and fall of the blood-testing company she launched show how she idolized Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, and navigated the collapse of Theranos.
‘Becoming steve jobs,’ Holmes wrote to herself in an entry dated April 2, 2015, just as positive media attention was growing for her start-up.
It was part of more than a dozen pages of stream-of-conscious like contemporaneous notes she typed to herself, and which were obtained by CNBC.
That particular note was related to a conversation Holmes had just had with David Boies, who served as counsel for Theranos, and was likely a reference to a biography published the prior month: Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader, by Brent Schlender.
In contemporaneous notes ex-Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes wrote to herself, she would compare herself to Steve Jobs, aping his signature look in media appearances, and even kept a photo of the late Apple co-founder in her office, according to an employee
Holmes had kept a framed photo of Jobs in her office, a former employee told the outlet, and she would mimic his signature black turtleneck-clad look in media appearances.
Holmes would formally receive the comparison she had sought in October of that year, when an Inc Magazine cover story featuring her began, ‘You’d have to look really hard not to see Steve Jobs in Elizabeth Holmes.’
Soon, however, word started getting out that Holmes had oversold the capability and accuracy of Theranos’ Edison blood testing devices, and that same month John Carreyrou for The Wall Street Journal published the first of a series of reports on errors the machines were producing.
Meanwhile, Holmes was writing to herself about ways to escape the scrutiny, and refute what the Journal had published.
‘Weak accusations – endorses everything – happened – if – true – raise doubt – want – board looks into it – finds nothing to any of it – looked into it – have not looked at it independently,’ she wrote in a lengthy note two weeks after the first report.
She also appeared to be psyching herself up.
‘Haven’t addressed – doesn’t shake my confidence – my business judgement – no reason – this announcement – know a month from now – business judgement correct at the time. Never for sure,’ she continued. ‘Put out statement. Faith – Elizabeth, co.
‘Point by point refutation statements,’ she wrote in notes earlier that day. ‘Fearless transparent nothing to hide’
Other references in her notes include one regarding former Secretary of State George Shultz (pictured with Holmes behind him in 2015) who sat on Theranos’ board of directors, and possibly indicated strategies at keeping doubts about the company’s technology under wraps
She continued later: ‘Board statement – independent look at accusations by board – making statements – no independent opinion. Unwise board – enter – without judgement – Strategic mistake – WSJ – impression – fight – number accusations – made’
Other notes include Holmes possibly strategizing about keeping doubts about the company under wraps.
‘Advice all day – EAH call – talk George off cliff…’ she wrote on April 29, 2015 in a possible reference former Secretary of State George Shultz, who was on the board of directors.
His grandson Tyler, who was hired by Theranos, had reportedly warned his grandfather about the company’s troubles, and he is expected to testify at her trial. George Shultz died in February of this year.
The notes only contain one reference to former Theranos COO Sunny Balwani, CNBC reported.
‘Balwani – stopped submitting Edison – off others,’ she wrote. The two were dating at the time, and he is scheduled to be tried on the same fraud and conspiracy charges in January.
Holmes’ defense has indicated it will assert that hiring Balwani was Holmes’ fatal mistake, pinning the blame for the company’s failure on him. Unsealed filings have also indicated that her attorneys plan to argue that he emotionally abused and manipulated her. Balwani has denied the accusations.
Holmes’ notes contain only one reference to former Theranos COO Sunny Balwani (pictured) and her defense had indicated it will allege that he emotionally manipulated her while they were dating. He is being tried on the same fraud and conspiracy charges at a later date
‘Elizabeth saw herself as the brand and driving force of the company. She was not one who was being manipulated by Sunny or anyone. That posture even continued when Sunny left the company in 2016,’ another former Theranos employee told CNBC.
Aside from the Wall Street Journal, other notes show Holmes navigating the media landscape.
‘Certain platforms – so fabulous – regular people… (Cramer) – Sorkin – mad man – tough,’ she said in reference to an October 17, 2015 interview with CBNC’s Jim Cramer and Andrew Ross Sorkin.
‘Very productive – CBS this morning producers, interview on Friday,’ she wrote in another note.
In another she wrote: ‘Really smart people picked off mado Not you,’ a possible reference to disgraced financier Bernie Madoff, who was convicted of running the largest Ponzi scheme in history in 2009.
But in her more hopeful notes, Holmes outline her vision for Theranos.
‘Started – vision – change world. Access to healthcare. Bring down cost. Up efficiency. Min pain…’
But, she added, ‘Fudge it – if don’t understand – want clarified – stop – explore – reserve done – may get to it’