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Personal notes of disgraced ex-CEO Elizabeth Holmes chronicle rise and fall of Theranos 


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.

Holmes is currently on trial for charges of fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud over allegations that she misled investors, patients and doctors about the capabilities of the company’s blood-test technology, and could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

‘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

Elizabeth Holmes

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

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.

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. 

Holmes is now on trial for fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud over allegations that she misled investors, doctors and patients over the capabilities of Theranos' blood-testing technology. She is pictured at the San Jose federal courthouse in 2019

Holmes is now on trial for fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud over allegations that she misled investors, doctors and patients over the capabilities of Theranos’ blood-testing technology. She is pictured at the San Jose federal courthouse in 2019

In the latest from her trial, Adam Rosendorff, a former Theranos employee and the first to speak to Carreyrou regarding his doubts about the company, continued his testimony Wednesday. 

Rosendorff joined the Theranos in April 2013 as a lab director, and told jurors that he left in November 2014 over misgivings about the company’s priorities, according to CNN Business

‘I felt pressured to vouch for tests that I did not have confidence in. I came to believe that the company believed more about PR and fundraising than about patient care,’ he said in court Friday. 

On Tuesday, he described how he had felt compelled to speak to Carreyrou. 

‘Even months after I left the company, I felt obligated from a moral and ethical perspective to alert the public,’ he said. 

Meanwhile, Holmes was writing to herself about ways to escape the scrutiny, and refute what the Journal had published. 

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

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 

‘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’

Holmes is accused of fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud in her role as CEO of Theranos. She could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted

Holmes is accused of fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud in her role as CEO of Theranos. She could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted

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' 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

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

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. 

‘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’ 

Theranos lab director testifies that Elizabeth Holmes cared more about PR than patient care at fraud trial and explains why he agreed to speak to a journalist 

A former Theranos lab director at its founder Elizabeth Holmes’ fraud trial testified that he believed the company’s leadership cared more about public relations than the accuracy of its much touted blood tests, and explained why he decided to speak to the press about his doubts.

In testimony that began Friday, continued on Tuesday and Wednesday, and is slated to last through to this Friday, Adam Rosendorff told the court why he decided to go to Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou in 2015 to relay his misgivings about the company’s blood testing technology. 

Rosendorff joined Theranos in April 2013 as a lab director, and told jurors that he left in November 2014 over misgivings about the company’s priorities, according to CNN Business

The trial of disgraced former Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes continued Wednesday. She is pictured arriving at the federal courthouse in San Jose during jury selection on August 31

The trial of disgraced former Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes continued Wednesday. She is pictured arriving at the federal courthouse in San Jose during jury selection on August 31

He was the first to blow the whistle regarding the company’s troubles to Carreyrou, and Carreryrou’s was the first report to sow doubts about the accuracy of Theranos’ tests when it was published in October, 2015 and drew further scrutiny that would lead to the company’s collapse.  

‘I felt pressured to vouch for tests that I did not have confidence in. I came to believe that the company believed more about PR and fundraising than about patient care,’ Rosendorff said in court Friday. 

On Tuesday, he described how he had felt compelled to speak to Carreyrou. 

‘Even months after I left the company, I felt obligated from a moral and ethical perspective to alert the public,’ he said. 

Former Theranos lab director Adam Rosendorff told prosecutors in court Tuesday that his misgivings about the accuracy of the company's blood tests led him to speak to former Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou (pictured), whose story was the first to sow doubts about their capabilities

Former Theranos lab director Adam Rosendorff told prosecutors in court Tuesday that his misgivings about the accuracy of the company’s blood tests led him to speak to former Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou (pictured), whose story was the first to sow doubts about their capabilities 

While being questioned by prosecutor John Bostic, Rosendorff insisted that he repeatedly tried to warn Holmes and Theranos’ chief operating officer and Holmes’ former lover, Ramesh ‘Sunny’ Balwani, that the tests were so rampantly inaccurate that he was being besieged by complaints from doctors. 

But Holmes and Balwani seemed more interested in cultivating Theranos’ image as a potentially game-changing company than protecting people’s health, according to Rosendorff.

‘The number and severity of issues had reached a crescendo,’ Rosendorff said, noting that the leadup to the commercial launch of the company’s tests through Walgreens in particular seemed ‘extremely rushed and hurried,’ CNN Business reported. 

Balwani is also charged with the same fraud and conspiracy charges and is scheduled to be tried in January. 

Attorneys for Holmes have argued that that the legal responsibility for the accuracy of Theranos’ tests fell on the employees running the lab and not Holmes, which would have included Rosendorff.

In his cross examination of Rosendorff that began Tuesday and continued Wednesday, Lance Wade, an attorney for Holmes pressed him to confirm that his responsibility as lab director was to ensure the accuracy of the company’s tests. 

‘Yes, I endeavored earnestly to fulfill the laboratory director obligations. I faced constraints and pushback from management,’ he replied. 

Rosendorff alleged in testimony that he had tried to warn Holmes and Theranos' chief operating officer and her former lover, Ramesh 'Sunny' Balwani (right) of inaccuracies in the company's tests

Ramesh 'Sunny' Balwani

 Rosendorff alleged in testimony that he had tried to warn Holmes and Theranos’ chief operating officer and her former lover, Ramesh ‘Sunny’ Balwani (right) of inaccuracies in the company’s tests  

Wade continued the line of questioning Wednesday, in exchanges that at times became heated. 

‘You keep saying it’s my job, it’s my job, but I was part of a large company,’ he told Wade,according to the Wall Street Journal

‘I alone fulfilled my duties as lab director, but it’s not reasonable to expect I could have guaranteed the quality of services coming out of the lab,’ he said.

In later questioning Wednesday, Wade showed the court a series of blood-test validation reports signed-off by Rosendorff from September 2013 to September 2014 that were run through Theranos’ proprietary Edison machines.

You would not have kept signing the validation reports for the Edison if you thought the Edison device was inherently unreliable?’ Wade asked, according to the Journal.

‘I would not,’ Rosendorff replied.



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