Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in A Silicon Valley Startup (2018) by John Carreyrou has justly received dozens upon dozens of glowing reviews: “riveting, masterfully reported book;” “almost unbelievable story of scandalous fraud, surveillance, and legal intimidation;” “the scam of the century,” all with which I agree.  Even if you think you are inured to stories of corruption, corporate malfeasance, unprincipled lawyers and the corrosive power of money you will find you are not.  

The story, first broken in the author, John Carreyou, on the front page of the Wall Street Journal in 2015, after almost a year of researching, interviewing and fighting lawyers and publicists of Theranos, the skyrocketing and deep-pocketed medical equipment startup, is simple enough in outline.  The details run to the detailed and complex which Carreyou handles with admirable clarity.

A Stanford University drop out, Elizabeth Holmes was smart and driven and very well-connected.  At nineteen years old, with one year of university completed she began a start-up in the spring of 2004.  Her goal was to apply nano and micro technology to medical diagnostics. Instead of drawing blood from a vein with a large needle, she was convinced that tiny drops obtained from finger pricks would be enough to do standard blood analysis, and many more esoteric tests.  Her own fear of needles and a summer internship in a Singapore lab using standard diagnostic tools of swabs, syringes and needles pushed her; the promise of cutting edge technology pulled her. Several investments by family friends put her on the road with some $6 million.

Whatever her good intentions or native intelligence by 2006 the slippery slope had begun to take shape, unnoticed by all but a few at the time.  The fluid mechanics and chemical procedures to handle processes and do reliable testing on such small quantities of blood was much more difficult that it had seemed. 

For those interested, decent chapter summaries are here, and here.  

Ω

What caught my attention, more than the stories of lies and subterfuge, were those who were instrumental to the revelations but whose own stories still need to be told. I have long been interested in whistle blowers and others who come to resist strong public opinion, about the necessity of war for example, the acceptability of sexual taking (boys will be boys), or the thousands of winks and nods given to tax evasion, under-the-table deals, and the many faces of public corruption.  The 2012 book, Beautiful Souls: Saying No, Breaking Ranks and Heeding the Voice of Conscience in Dark Times, by Eyal Press is a standout look at such people. (My review here.)

There are many whose names appear in Bad Blood  — who in fact had “good blood,” “good DNA,” or “strong consciences,” however it might be described —  who were on their first adult jobs, whose loss of a job would be skirting familial tragedy, who didn’t have high-priced, or any, legal counsel, who chose to stop, to bring their concerns higher, to question, to say No, to quit. Most of them were young people, who had the courage under enormous pressure, intimidation, threats both personal and legal, to follow their conscience.  Some quit Theranos, anguished over what they had seen or could infer about the likely results of malfunctioning test equipment being used in public settings. 

The role played by Tyler Schultz, grandson of Board Member George Schultz, is covered in some detail, but there is nothing about his own interior journey, how he grappled with the certain embarrassment his determined revelations might bring to others, espeically his grandfather.  Ian Gibbons was driven to suicide; we have no record of his thoughts or of Rochelle (Gibbons) his wife, a lawyer with a practice of her own, who was privy to his mounting despair.

Others whose names appear but about whom we know little, especially as regards their doubts, efforts to inform, or struggles of conscience,  are Shaunack Roy, a co-founder, who left early and sold his shares back to Holmes in the fall 2007 at $.50 a share; Henry Mosely, finance officer, fired; Avie Tevanian, early catch from Apple, friend of Steve Jobs, gone with substantial concerns; Ana Arriola, recruited in summer of 2007, worried Theranos was crossing ethical line with the Pfizer Tennessee study and quit after four months.  There many more whose stories, properly told, would reveal not so much shocking, and predictable, corporate and individual, greed, but the hearts and struggles of those who had, or found or created, a proper antidote — a daring, big, life-defining, friendship-shifting NO.  Not going to do this. NO.

Where these folks failed, if that is the right word, is that they did not, perhaps did not know how to, organize – to talk to each other, to link arms and raise a public fuss.  Even though, in an article about Arriola, she is quoted as saying that “Ex-employees gathered every quarter at a restaurant in Palo Alto as a sort of “self-therapy … We would compare notes, even before they went public with all the nefarious stuff,” it did not go beyond that. Each, as described in the book, under the pressures of ordinary life — bringing in a salary, raising a family, being young,  went out on their own. As the cliche goes – Moving On.  Perhaps high school civics classes should include a major sector on grass-roots organizing and the vital importance of conscience to personal, as well as public, health.

Ω

The other group, about whom much should be written are the, mostly older, white men who composed the Theranos Board of Directors, from George Schultz, former Secretary of State and Nixon cabinet appointee, to former James Mattis (General, USMC), Henry Kissinger (former U.S. Secretary of State), William Perry (former U.S. Secretary of Defense),  Sam Nunn (former U.S. Senator), Bill Frist (former U.S. Senator and heart-transplant surgeon), Gary Roughead (Admiral, USN, retired),Richard Kovacevich (former Wells Fargo Chairman and CEO) and Riley Bechtel (chairman of the board and former CEO at Bechtel Group).  Not one of these men seemed to take their responsibilities as Board Members to a multi-billion company very seriously, even when complaints started to flood in, Not when Pfizer terminated its contract with Theranos in late 2007, not after the WSJ article hit the news in October, 2015, not  in November 2016 when Walgreen Co. filed suit against Theranos in a federal court in Delaware, for breach of contract. General Mattis, for example was on the board from 2013 to January 2017.

Not one public mea culpa. Not one reflective article in a major business publication.  No million dollar donations to non-profits trying to throw light on corporate criminality.  George Schultz has praised his grandson, Tyler, “his great moral character,” and has yet to say anything about how his own wilfull blindness.

Add David Boies to the list, (chapter 11.) Described as one of the most powerful lawyers in the United States, and often associated with causes to promote the common good ( Al Gore’s attorney in Bush v. Gore, and Hollingsworth v. Perry, the 2009 California case legalizing gay marriage in California) he bullied during depositions, had witnesses trailed, intimidated witnesses and ordinary people.  Add in his sidekicks Heather King, and Mike Brille who adopted with a vengeance his techniques, not of seeking truth and justice but of pummeling the poor and powerless.

[Boies is also the unapologetic defense lawyer for Harvey Weinstein, the much accused sexual predator, and was fired by the New York Times for  being “personally involved in an undercover operation to smear Mr. Weinstein’s victims and deceive Times reporters.”

While a lawyer is obligated to provide the best defense for a client possible, he is not obligated to accept the client.  He, as the other “Big Men” involved was determined to be oblivious to the possibility that in fact it was his clients who were lying not their accusers.  He eventually dropped Theranos as a client after the SEC and FDA brought suits against the company and its owners.

What have any of these men learned from their experience? What are we to imagine about the Foreign Policy of the United States under George Shultz when he has not, to this day, reflected publicly about his being duped by a young woman, who his grandson sussed out within months of working for her?

Or Channing Robertson, the associate dean of Stanford’s School of Engineering, who praised and supported Elizabeth Holmes:

“You start to realize you are looking in the eyes of another Bill Gates, or Steve Jobs.”

Has he ever publicly spoken of what he missed in his adulatory judgment of her?

How about Barron’s, and Fortune and the Wall Street Journal‘s editorial board all of which carried glowing reports about the billion dollar valuations of a company that had not yet proved itself?  Have any of them examined their processes for evaluation of companies and high-flying super-stars? How did we go so wrong – failing elemental due diligence and misleading our subscribers and investors?

For a stirring take-down of the whole mess you can’t do better than read Matthew Holt’s 2018 article in “The Health Care Blog”  Bad Blood and Mad Love at Theranos — Psychopaths at Work.

We are drawn to such stories of the “comeuppance of the bad,” of course.  Even I am.  They will keep coming,   We are a million stories short, however, of those who have struggled with the devils of greed, arrogance, pride and the lust for domination of others, and won. There have to be some out there, stirring and important enough to find a market of interested and willing readers.

Try Beautiful Souls: Saying No, Breaking Ranks and and Heeding the Voice of Conscience in Dark Times, by Eyal Press for a starter. (My review here.)