I recently finished Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, a book by Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou about the collapse of Theranos. The first part of the book goes into the nuts and bolts of how a company valued at 10 billion dollars could promote itself as a high tech company without a working product. Yeah, really. No working product. It did so by dressing its CEO up as a female Steve Jobs, stuck her in front of fawning reporters, Ted talks, and magazine photographers who crowned her the queen of a ground breaking way of testing blood. All that was missing was the actual technology.
Of course, Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes was no ordinary person. As a scion of the Fleishmann Yeast fortune, she had access to influence the rest of us could only dream about. Carreyrou plays this down in his book, leaving us to believe the heavyweight movers and shakers such as Henry Kissinger, George Shultz and Sam Nunn were only on the Theranos Board of Directors because she batted her false eyelashes at them and they simply melted into her company’s arms. Director David Boies looms large in the latter part of the book, swinging his mighty legal battleax at anyone who would dare question the science behind the technology. As Theranos brought its nonexistent innovation to market, David Mattis, another member of the Board of directors, a man that my USAF captain son-in-law swears up and down has never been a “sell out” like so many of his high ranking military peers, tried convincing the military to buy the Theranos blood testing kits to use on the battlefield.
It’s all very sad, then, when Walgreen’s started implementing these useless blood testing kits in their stores. Sadder still, Carreyrou writes about being hounded himself by Theranos, and shady individuals who could only be Theranos surrogates. The story takes on tragic undertones in the adversarial relationship between the elderly Theranos board member George Shultz and his young pathetically upstanding whistleblowing grandson. Finally, in the end, The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services pulled out the rug from the company not to mention a big chunk of money.
Sixty Minutes aired a peppy promotion for Xyleco last night, with the same breathless exultation of a CEO who has about as little science education as Theranos’ Elizabeth Holmes, maybe less. George Shultz is on that board, too. After reading Bad Blood, it’s hard buying into these kinds of stories, expecially since the head of Xyleco is a multi billionaire.
The Soviets had Trofim Lysenko pushing crackpot science, happily backed by the powers that be. Money and influence can buy just about anything.