Jared Holst: Rolling with the Holmies

Yves here. Women cheerleading other women because women has never made any sense to me. Hardly any women who’ve risen to leadership positions are admirable. Maggie Thatcher? Carly Fiorina? Gina Haspel? Susan Rice? DiFi? Nancy Pelosi? Sure, you can find exceptions like Barbara Boxer and Shirley Chisholm, but the record of women in charge does not prove the peculiar story line that some advocates like to tout, that women are more nurturing and therefore better suited to oversee organizations. Gah. Elizabeth I, for instance, who was a big improvement over her father in the “running the country” category, also ushered in the professionalization of spying.

And then we have Elizabeth Holmes. It is an accomplishment of sorts to have defrauded so many elite men. This pales compared to women who take advantage of other women, like Gwyneth Paltrow and her exploding vagina-scented candles. But another way to contextualize her scam is that it was an affinity fraud. Holmes managed to get into the good graces of George Schultz, who is as A list among rich and connected American men as you can get. He promoted her aggressively. If we are lucky, we will get a clue as to why during her trial.

In the meantime, I don’t see how anyone who saw her didn’t recognize her as nuts or playing a nut as the closest approximation she could make to feigning being a genius. The fixed stare alone usually required some Percocet (TV guests often take a low dose to reduce their blink speed, which makes them seem calmer; many questioned how Bernanke came about his notably slow blink speed).

By Jared Holst,  the author at Brands Mean a Lot, a weekly commentary on the ways branding impacts our lives. Each week, he explores contradictions within the way politics, products, and pop-culture are branded for us, offering insight on what’s really being said. You can follow Jared on Twitter @jarholst. Originally published at Brands Mean a Lot

“There should simply be better parts for women and actors of color. Why should a woman play James Bond when there should be a part just as good as James Bond, but for a woman?” – Daniel Craig, currently portraying James Bond, in an interview with Radio Times.

Elizabeth Holmes, of Theranos fame, is currently on trial for fraud. If convicted, she faces up to 20 years in prison. For years, Holmes deceived investors, partners, and employees about the capabilities of the technology Theranos was producing. Whether or not she’s a bad person is a philosophical debate for someone more nuanced and capable than I. What’s not up for debate is that she did some pretty criminal stuff.

A post shared by @elizabethholmesupdates

Yet, somehow, Holmes has fans. Business Insider recently reported about the online constellation of Holmes fans (dubbed ‘Holmies’), many of whom have expressed un-ironic, earnest support for her during her trial. In fact, as pictured above, some have even attended her trial in California dressed in Holmes’ trademark ersatz Steve Jobs costume; a black turtleneck paired with black pants. A copy of a copy of a copy.

That Holmes, such an unambiguously villainous character, has fans, shouldn’t actually come as a surprise. Martin Shkreli, of AIDS medicine price gouging notoriety, had tens of thousands of subscribers across all kinds of online platforms. OJ Simpson, the white Bronco fella, had supporters stationed outside of his trial as well. In another similarity between Holmes and Simpson, and an interesting aside, their fans created an array of fascinating bootleg merchandise supporting their predicament.

Elizabeth Holmes is of course not the first female to be at the center of such an engrossing and notorious trial. Hi Casey Anthony. Ciao, Amanda Knox. She is, however, the most notorious female businessperson to be put on trial, possibly of all time. For a time, Holmes, a female college dropout, was both the youngest and the wealthiest billionaire of all time. An astounding feat considering America’s obsession with college and its putrid treatment of both female entrepreneurs and females in the workplace.

Daniel Craig’s quote is apt. James Bond is a misogynist, violent character from an era when exhibiting such traits carried less public condemnation than it does now. Given this, Craig is correct: There should be new action characters created for women and POC whose expression isn’t bound by the constraints of whatever is expected of James Bond. Milla Jovovich in both Monster Hunter and the ‘Resident Evil’ movies comes to mind, as does Regina King in HBO’s ‘Watchmen’ series.

Freddie Mercury and Elizabeth Holmes, sharing a tune.

The ability to obtain venture capital and the attendant press is a reflection of a founder’s ability to network and to sell. Venture capital can also be a patronage network wherein those with preexisting privilege–previous founders, those who went to elite universities and white men–have an easier time obtaining money and press than those without. Women founders receiveless than 10% of all VC money, and 65% of VC companies have zero female partners.

With the Bond comparisons and the above facts in mind, Holmes’ trial represents incremental progress. Here’s a then 19 year old woman who succeeded, for a time, in a STEM field overwhelmingly dominated by men. Further, Holmes was able to navigate the male dominated VC landscape with only a year of college under her belt. She was so successful in forming connections between powerful patronage nodes that she somehow managed to bring Henry Kissinger, himself a powerful figure existing well outside of traditional VC networks, onto the board of her company.

Pictured: Nobel Peace Prize winner Henry Kissinger

Before I get to Holmes’ supporters, I want to say I can’t explain OJ Simpson’s or Martin Shkreli’s idolatry save for some broad theory around America’s obsession with football, capital, and voyeurism as a misguided form of fandom. Holmes, like the aspirational, yet-to-be-created character that Craig references, has created a new persona that lives outside the archetypal business villain. She’s not the wolf of wall street Jordan Belfort, whose alpha machismo catapulted him and his firm to riches in an industry already saturated by it. Nor is she the deviously technocratic number cruncher Ken Lay, whose intimate knowledge of energy, finance, and the regulation surrounding it allowed him to commit intricate acts of fraud and conspiracy for the benefit of Enron.

She’s not just different because she’s a woman. Holmes is to fraudulence in business what Craig’s yet-to-be seen action star is: a new archetype free from what’s ordinarily expected. That a woman managed to achieve this represents a perverse form of progress in business. With this progress in mind, why wouldn’t Holmes fans supporting her at trial?

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53 comments

  1. PlutoniumKun

    I can honestly say that the first time I read about Theranos my first thought was that it was a scam. It didn’t seem credible to me that a company with no obvious medical science links could possibly have some up with something that was Nobel prize worthy without ever revealing their ‘secret sauce’. The fact that nobody could actually explain how these devices did what they did made it all look like, quite literally, snake oil. The obvious weirdness of Holmes made it look all the more suspicious. It’s also kind of obvious that the main people she took in were power brokers with no background in science.

    I think her advantages as a fraudster are very clear. The best scammers often come in some respects from ‘outside’ the clique they scam, while retaining enough cred to persuade those insiders that they are worthy of being insiders. If she was an upper middle class white male, her peers would have recognised her oddness as something that made her suspicious. But as a youthful woman she was able to sell it as a special aura. We see this all the time in the way that, for example, second rate English intellectuals can persuade Americans they are geniuses, or Scots or Irish or Australians with sufficiently ambiguous accents and expensive suits can persuade the English establishment that they should be let through the door that would be closed to lower class Englishmen. The French thriller series ‘Lupin’ with Omar Sy plays on this – Sy emphasises that as a very physically big black man with beautiful French he can easily slip between upper class and underclass worlds in a way that a white Frenchman could not.

    I was reading a little while ago that some social scientists studied the best way to get past a doorman in an exclusive club was to be so ambiguous in your social status that the doormen can’t read you. The guy stepping out of an expensive car, but wearing a scruffy jumper and worn sneakers was more likely to be let in than the guy stepping out of the same expensive car while wearing an Armani suit. It’s the ambiguity that opens doors. I think this is something Holmes (and quite a few other tech billionaires) have learned, whether by accident or design.

    1. Mikel

      “The best scammers often come in some respects from ‘outside’ the clique they scam..”

      It works as long as the big black men, women, or assorted scrappy “ethnics” can be the novelty to the clique.

    2. diptherio

      My uncle was a pool hustler for many years of his life. Once when he was visiting, we went to the local pool joint and he explained some of the tricks of the trade to me. One of them involved the garish, checkered pageboy cap he wore. As he explained it to me, “it helps to look a little out of phase.” Sounds like that tactic works for more than just relieving marks of their dough at the pool table.

      1. lordkoos

        I had a friend who was a pool hustler, he had long hair, wore sloppy looking cargo pants, and had thick coke-bottle glasses that exaggerated his eyes. He’d take local good ol’ boys for a hundreds dollars, but in small towns word gets around so he had to keep moving.

        If she was an upper middle class white male, her peers would have recognised her oddness as something that made her suspicious.

        I’m not to sure about that — for example Mark Zuckerberg, who in my mind comes across as odd…

        1. Eric377

          Zuckerberg delivered though. Not saying that FB is a good thing or bad thing, but it generated real revenue sufficient to not compare him with Holmes.

    3. Watt4Bob

      Hplmes was not an “outsider”.

      From the New Republic article;

      She was childhood friends with the daughter of billionaire Silicon Valley investor Tim Draper, who helped her raise a million dollars, and lent credibility to the project from the outset. Through her father, she met Don Lucas, an early investor in Oracle who later became chairman of the board. According to Carreyrou, Holmes and Lucas had brunch every weekend. Lucas, in turn, brought in Larry Ellison, another Silicon Valley brahmin, who sits on the board of Tesla. The circle of investors grew to include a who’s who of American plutocrats: Rupert Murdoch, the Walton Family, and the DeVos family.

      And;

      During Christmas dinner, her father Christian Holmes IV, a former executive at Enron, wrote the letters “Ph.D.” on a piece of paper, folded it into a paper airplane, and sent it aloft. “No Dad,” Holmes replied. “I want to make money.”

      And, from https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/12/15/blood-simpler;

      Late one afternoon in September, Holmes was driven from Palo Alto to the San Francisco airport, where she boarded a seven-seat Gulfstream 150 for a flight to Chicago. She would be speaking at a panel; from there she would fly to Cleveland to attend meetings at the Cleveland Clinic. She was travelling alone. Members of the Theranos board sometimes worry about Holmes. “My wife and I feel that one of our jobs is to bring her out,” George Shultz told me. They invite her to the theatre, and this year threw her a thirtieth-birthday party at their home, which was attended by her parents, her brother, Balwani, Robertson, and several members of the board and their spouses. Henry Kissinger and his wife, Nancy, have tried, without success, to fix her up on dates.

      I would add, but cannot find the article which suggests it, that there is speculation that Holmes Mother had a ‘relationship‘ with George Schultz during her days as a foreign policy congressional staffer, and his a Secretary of State.

      1. Joe Well

        Indeed, it was those natsec gargoyles who were the outsiders in the life sciences field, and they thought that Holmes with her connections to Stanford biology was an insider.

        Otherwise, they would have known that basic fluid dynamics or just simple logic means you can’t do all those destructive tests on such a tiny amount of blood. Like trying to share a cup of water with a football team at halftime.

        1. Michaelmas

          Indeed, it was those natsec gargoyles who were the outsiders in the life sciences field…(that) thought that Holmes with her connections to Stanford biology was an insider.

          Yup.

  2. Basil Pesto

    ugh, the intro reminded me of last year when some people were trying to put Kamala Harris on the same pedestal as Shirley Chisholm 🤢

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      To be fair, there was just a recent TV show featuring Chisolm as actress character. It’s like how they borrowed “resistance” from the new star wars movies.

  3. johnherbiehancock

    The author mentioned Ken Lay, but neglected to mention Holmes’ father also worked for Enron (link: Vice President of Enron, responsible for due diligence on potential investments in the environmental and energy sectors)

    Her father later worked for a number of government agencies (post Enron), and her mother was a congressional staffer. huh.

    Did a young Elizabeth pick up the grifter lingo, the mentality or both on “take your kid to work” days?

  4. YankeeFrank

    What continues to befuddle me about Theranos is the smallness of the vision: so we can run a bunch of blood tests that are already run but without “the horror” of getting blood drawn?

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Excellent point. I was so needle resistant (not exactly phobic, more didn’t trust that the person administering the jab knew what they were doing) that I had to be chased around a doctor’s office and subdued to get a penicillin shot when I was about 10. And then as an adult refused to get a blood draw until I was so punked out I had to submit. Turned out I had mono. But my MD had had chemo patients (they have terrible veins), drew the blood himself and was really good at it.

      I still always go to a clinical lab because my veins tend to roll and someone who is not very practiced can make it unpleasant. The phlebotomists there are pretty much always better than the nurses in MD’s offices just by virtue of so much practice.

      Long-winded way of saying I wonder how much needle phobia is due to a bad blood draw and could be relieved by going to the trouble of getting a more adept practitioners.

      1. Joe Well

        How much of the needle phobia is just that as children the needle really is relatively enormous and therefore much more painful, and people take that memory into adulthood?

      2. vlade

        Ugh. I don’t like needles but still managed to regularly donate blood until they told me that since I couldn’t remember whether I received a transfusion or not when I had surgery as a 10 year old (still don’t get it, surely anything problematic would have shown by now).

        My strategy was to concentrate on doing to something entirely different else while the vein was punctured (I was ok with it once it was).

        1. YankeeFrank

          I heard nurses practice inserting a needle to a vein using soggy spaghetti. I thought that was brilliant.

          I don’t know anyone who likes getting a needle in their arm. I think one has to simply submit themselves to the nurse’s care and let go. Turn away. Think about getting lunch. Its worked for me so far. But then again, my most peaceful dreams have always been the ones where I’m dying ;).

          Now as regards the dentist…

        2. Vandemonian

          After an unspectacular year at university (passed two, failed two) I started as a trainee in a pathology lab. First time I had blood taken I experienced a strong vasovagal response, and fainted. Second time I had blood taken, I did I it myself, to get a normal control for a coagulation test (working alone out of hours). Luckily I didn’t faint.

          One thing that helps with painless venepuncture is misdirection. Saying “This might hurt just a little”, and concentrating the subject’s attention on the site increases the pain. Putting the needle in on the sly while chatting about the weather, or plans for the weekend, makes it a much milder experience.

          I was a blood donor for years, and yes, a zen-like detachment makes it much easier to cope with. Then the local Red Cross decided to save money by replacing its phlebotomy nurses with barely trained and inexperienced “technicians” off the street. First time with a new hire, she failed three times to get the needle into my large, obvious and well-used vein. Blamed me for not having enough water to drink before I turned up. I haven’t been back.

  5. Chops

    “Women cheerleading other women because women has never made any sense to me.”

    It does to me. Living as a woman simply comes with extra friction in life. An enormous numbers of things are just harder to achieve, in a way that is hard to understand unless you experience it; and if you do, you experience it every day, forever and ever. It’s like a constant extra pressure. A permanent itch you can never scratch, a permanent ringing in your ears you can never silence. When you live with that, seeing someone who has the same achieve is simply good to see. Sure, one might in every other way despise that woman, but you know she got there and she did it with that permanent, endless extra pressure.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      You apparently don’t realize that I am a woman, and that I went to college and then extremely male-dominated businesses when things were much harder for women than now. So don’t patronize. Among other things, I was the first Westerner hired into the Japanese hierarchy of one of the most elite firms in Japan. Try imagining what that hazing was like.

      I hold Holmes in contempt and can’t understand why you don’t. A crook damages the reputation of anyone who might be deemed to resemble them. She didn’t just steal from investors. She repeatedly gave fake test results that both threw patients into unwarranted panics (and sometimes more unnecessary MD visits and tests) or false reassurance. She was playing with people’s lives out of raw greed and her delusions.

      1. vlade

        Maybe Chops is just glad that Holmes is breaking into the male-dominated industry of frauds, specifically startup/unicorn frauds, showing it’s not just males who can fake for billions?

      2. Raymond Sim

        My wife reacts to footage of Holmes with the kind of visceral revulsion that I’ve always thought must arise as much from instinct as socialisation. Is it possible that for some people the instinctual response is attraction?

        We were both raised Unitarian, in different congregations. Hers was in the Philadelphia Main Line, very tony. Mine wasn’t even a proper church, just a fellowship, a shabby college-town assembly. The idea that the leadership of women was going to bring a moral revolution was close to a Unitarian article of faith in those days. I halfway bought into it, I don’t think she ever did.

        1. TimH

          Those weird Holmes shots with the whites showing make her very scary to me.

          We’ll see how the ploys of pregnancy and blaming the nasty man work out. Jury selection must have been as fun as Shkreli’s.

      3. E.Yates

        I believe Chops was not commenting on Holmes, but on women thinking positively of other women. I don’t see that Chops was patronizing either. It will be interesting to see the outcome of Holmes’ trial. Lots of hugely influential board members with matching egos involved and not too interested in looking like fools. Holmes’ “He made me do it” defense will work for them, and for the people who think a pretty blond can do no wrong. In California awhile back a woman killed her fiance, a lawyer, and with the help of his legal secretary buried him in the desert. When brought to trial it turned out she had a rap sheet at least a foot thick. She was beautiful and had managed to skirt all the previous charges.

    2. YankeeFrank

      If I may, I’ll add that this kind of thinking — that women live in some horrible reality that men just can’t understand — is convenient to justify overlooking the godawful things many women in power do… and not good for much else as far as I’ve seen.

      There are many benefits to being a woman in western society. And many drawbacks to being a man. I won’t go into the litany but one thing I’ve read from some of the experiences of women transitioning themselves to men is their shock at how little consideration or caring they get from the society/public after transitioning. They had no idea how much more cared for they were. I don’t want to overstate this idea, but its real.

      Men and women are not equal. We have different strengths and weaknesses that vary greatly — I’ve known quite a few women I wouldn’t want to wrestle with and I’m not a small man. Life also isn’t fair. Some are blessed physically or mentally and some less so. Or like myself, blessed with both ;). The idea that we’re going to make the world completely fair is folly at best. More fair is the best we can do and Holmes, in the ways she amassed power and fortune first by contravening the expectations of femininity and then using classic feminine tropes to wriggle out of responsibility for her actions, hasn’t exactly helped. By “acting like a man” (deepening her voice, dressing in turtlenecks and pants like some weird Steve Jobs apostle) while being an attractive woman, she apparently entranced many powerful men. As a guy with a bias towards strong/tough women, I get it.

      Sort of.

      And to clarify, I think Elon Musk should be charged with murder for his “auto-pilot” performances, though the case may not be quite as clear. She’s guilty as heck and no amount of unseemly and distasteful “my boyfriend made me do it” and “but I’m a mother with a baby now” should deter the jury from doing their duty.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        The reason I am leery about generalizations and stereotyping of men v. women is that with classes as large as men and women, the differences within the class will greatly exceed the differences between the classes. I grew up in the era of peak feminism (gender stereotyping in child’s toys was lowest in the 1970s) and got virtually no girl programming at home. I attribute a lot of female v. male behavior to nurture, not nature. One of my many pet peeves is how TV shows condition women to cower when attacked, as opposed to doing something sensible like gouging the perp’s eyes out if they have the chance (the way the shows are blocked, they often do).

        1. Raymond Sim

          I have a son who was absolutely ‘all boy’ when he was little. He has a daughter who is just as stereotypically girly. But just as he was always also very sweet and gentle, she loves fighting games and roughhousing. Just like him, she enjoys being stoical about minor injuries, when she can pull it off.

          Talking with other fathers, and grandfathers, there seems to be something close to consensus that the one big consistent difference is in infants. When roughhousing ‘too rough’ for baby girls is about where it really starts to get fun for boys.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            I had the reputation among the boys my age (4-5 years old) that I was the “baddest girl” they’d ever met. But I was also much bigger and heavier than boys my age until I was 11, so I couldn’t be outroughoused. In the movie of my third birthday party, I look like an 8 year old who had wandered in.

            1. Raymond Sim

              My granddaughter’s dearest friend is a girl of similar proportions. When they get together hugs and kisses and compliments on one another’s clothes are typically followed by takedown moves. Then they’ll have a tea party for their stuffed animals and Barbie dolls.

    3. CloverBee

      I am all for supporting women because, they are women, but with some critical thinking. There are plenty of women who take advantage of that support, and make the good ones look bad.

  6. Hank George

    The labs that do blood testing, etc., for life insurers were concerned in the early days of Theranos that Holmes could take over their niche by offering a more consumer-friendly approach to testing. Of course, Theranos didn’t wind up gnashing on a slice of their pie. It took Covid-19 to do that….which, when you think about it, is bad news for the consumer because now many insurers use choices bits of big data. Fortuitously both New York and Colorado have had the cujones to intervene and say “no mas” on behalf of their residents. Better to have a quick painless blood draw than have them snooping inappropriately in your personal business.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Huh?

      Even life insurers who do medical exams have paramedics or nurses contracted to them perform the test. If someone is applying for insurance, the insurer has the power. It seems inconceivable that squeamishness over a blood draw would make a difference. They still poke and prod you.

      And life insurers can only provide your medical information to a Medical Information Board if they are a member.

  7. Gregorio

    I have to admit to experiencing a bit of schadenfreude reading how she stuck it to the likes of Kissinger, DeVos, Shultz, Murdock, et al.. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer bunch.

      1. jonboinAR

        It’s also a measure of how seeming high intelligence, combined with a reputation for ruthless practicality, or maybe just extremely high functionality if you will, it still doesn’t prevent one from being scammed by a very clever con-person. I don’t know if I feel more schadefreude or alarm by knowing this.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          I am going to be very crass.

          Don’t underestimate her big boobs. Women who don’t play them down by wearing constricting bras and heavily tailored suits, and she didn’t (the all-black was more than offset by the cut of her jackets) lead a lot of men to not make eye contact. I know many less well endowed women than Holmes who complain about that.

          1. Raymond Sim

            Is there a contraction combining LOL and OMG?

            I think you’re right, a lot of guys never even noticed those creepy eyes.

            Everything is Benny Hill?

  8. vlade

    Serial murderers, who admit and even boast of their crimes, get fan mail and marriage offers, so Holmes is the least surprising. Mankind is weird.

  9. Joe Well

    Holmes conned the luminaries of the national security establishment and then the media (hello, Rupert Murdoch) because they just aren’t that smart, evidenced both their performance in office and now this. Sociopathy and self-regard are not intelligence.

    There is a reason she stayed away from high level people in actual science or else made them sign NDAs.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Kissinger was also conned by Bernie Madoff, as was one of the former co-heads of Goldman, John Whitehead. This was basically another affinity scam, except among military-intel linked top execs and government officials. One person goes in and the others assume his people must have checked them out.

      Having said that, Murdoch is an outlier unless he has more spook connections than commonly known.

  10. The Rev Kev

    What amazes me over the decades is the sight of obvious con-artists being taken seriously by ‘serious’ people and being given truck loads of cash to develop their ‘visions.’ What was not of so much importance was their competence but rather their enthusiasm. If they were enthusiastic, then that obviously means that they are sincere, doesn’t it? And enthusiasm became a criteria for getting a job, even if they were not that competent. I mean when you get down to it, is Elizabeth Holmes that much different from Elon Musk? If you were writing a history of our times, both would be in the same chapter. Maybe Branson and Bezos too but I tend to think that there is more similarities between Musk and Holmes. There seems to be an escape orbit for these con artists. If you get high enough, then you are dug in like Musk is. Fail to get enough momentum like Holmes failed to do, then you crash and burn.

    1. vlade

      TBH, I’d put Bezos in a different category. He’s not really a con man IMO. He is a sociopath, that will go to any lengths to get to his goal, but his “products” are actually real.

      That in getting them to his customers he dehumanises, destroys competitors and what else, is a different thing than Holmes, and I’d argue, more dangerous.

      Con people tend to get found, sooner or later. Bezoses of this world don’t, because, in the end, they do deliver their promises..

      1. c_heale

        I don’t think Holmes can be classed as just a con woman. Since her con involved the suffering or possible death of people who used the blood tests, I would say there is definitely something psychopathic about her behaviour.

  11. Matthew G. Saroff

    As has been described on the pages on NC, the phenomenon of groupies for brazen criminals goes back a long time.

    William Edward Hickman, who Ayn Rand saw as her model for her superman and dismembered a child, got a huge amount of fan mail.

  12. Trainer

    I’ve long suspected that Elizabeth Holmes might be the daughter of George Shultz, and that she used this unacknowledged relationship to blackmail him into backing Theranos.

    Elizabeth Holmes has been quoted as saying that former Secretary of State George Shultz introduced her to nearly all the big name outside directors on Theranos’s board. According to Fortune Magazine:

    “In 2011, explains company founder Elizabeth Holmes…she finagled an introduction to George Shultz, the former Secretary of State, Treasury, and Labor….Three years later nearly all the other outside directors on Theranos’s board are people who were introduced to the company through Shultz, now 93. They are former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry, former Secretary of State and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, former U.S. Senators Sam Nunn and Bill Frist (a heart-transplant surgeon), retired U.S. Navy Adm. Gary Roughead, retired U.S. Marine Corp Gen. James Mattis, former Wells Fargo CEO and chairman Dick Kovacevich, and former Bechtel Group CEO Riley Bechtel.”

    It’s a pretty big ask for a former Secretary of State to vouch for you with so many of his friends, which may or may not also include the big name family offices that later invested in Theranos (Walton/Walmart, Murdoch/News Corp, DeVos/Amway, Cox/Cox Enterprises, Oppenheimer/DeBeers). This level of commitment does not usually come from a casual relationship.

    Shultz most likely had (he passed away this year) a more enduring relationship with Holmes. Her mother (Noel Anne Daoust) was a congressional aide to Representative Charlie Wilson, the subject of the Tom Hanks movie “Charlie Wilson’s War”. Wilson’s obituary describes him as having “staffed his ­congressional office with beautiful female assistants (dubbed Charlie’s Angels on Capitol Hill)”. Wilson also led congress to support the covert arming and financing of Afghan mujahideen against the Soviets throughout the 1980’s. This would put Shultz, who was U.S. Secretary of State during the 1980’s, in regular contact with Wilson and probably his aide Noel Anne Daoust.

    When combined with the very odd fact that Elizabeth Holmes spent several family holidays with George Shultz, this makes me believe she might be his unacknowledged daughter. Tyler Shultz, a Theranos employee whistleblower and grandson to George Shultz describes one family Thanksgiving with Holmes:

    “She actually came to our family’s Thanksgiving. It was a very intimate setting. It was just me, my parents, my brother, Elizabeth, her parents and my grandparents. It’s not like there were 100 people at this Thanksgiving dinner. It was a small dinner, and at the table, Elizabeth raised her glass and gave a toast and said, ‘I just want to say that I love and appreciate every member of the Shultz family.’”

    If Holmes in fact is the unacknowledged daughter of George Shultz, and he did not want this information made public, then she may have been blackmailing him to get all the legitimacy and funding she needed to start a billion dollar company. Holmes obviously had other actors that helped her gain legitimacy, like Theranos’s relationship with Stanford University, but I think one reason this fraud got so big was the influence she had over George Shultz.

    It makes you wonder how often this type of thing happens in the business world.

  13. Matthew G. Saroff

    Here is a question: How much of the Holmes success in the fraud was BECAUSE she was a young and attractive woman? (A white woman with extensive family connections, but nonetheless)

    I always had the sense that part of the support came from people trying to demonstrate that they were not sexist by using Holmes as a token, which Holmes used.

  14. Kevin Smith

    While Percocet™ can reduce blink rate, cocaine [or even a lipid-soluble beta-blocker like propranolol] is a more likely agent in this case, I think.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Thanks a lot! But having used those cocaine eye drops (I assume that is what you are referring to), they only last 20 mins. And you can’t get them by Rx. When I was in the ER for a badly scratched cornea (super painful!), the attending MD said, “I can’t give this [very itty bitty bottle] to you but I’ll put it on the table and leave the room.”

  15. ChrisPacific

    Wow, that backup plan quote on the T-shirt… I would run a mile.

    (But then, I admire good planning and risk management and am naturally suspicious of visionaries who are light on detail).

  16. T_Reg

    While the direct harm Holmes committed is distressing, for me the long term harm she committed is more memorable; she trashed any possibility of improving the medical testing process.

    Back when I gave blood regularly (before they fired the highly capable nurses and replaced them with incompetent people, but that’s another story), in addition to the pint, they would extract 4 test tubes of blood. That seems ridiculously excessive, so when Holmes started talking about numerous tests from a drop or two, I was psyched. I think the miniaturization trend is long overdue in making its way to medical testing. I still think that it’s feasible to do what her company claimed to do, but I don’t think it will ever happen now.

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