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Elizabeth Homes: 'The Dropout' and the cautionary tale of hero worship

'fall from grace'



a situation in which you do something that makes people in authority stop liking you or admiring you.

1.a loss of favour or a position of power or honour.

"the artist's fall from grace"

2. lose favour or a position of power or honour.

"a pop singer who fell from grace"

Elizabeth Holmes, a blonde woman with her hair in a messy updo, with blue eyes and red lipstick, wears a black turtleneck wool sweater against a dark grey background.
Emulating Steve Jobs in many aspects: Elizabeth Holmes, founder and former CEO of 'Theranos'

The world of podcasts has opened my eyes to so many stories, creative expressions and noteworthy journalism. Whether it is a daily commute, a long walk in the fresh air or a wind-down in the evenings, there is always something new to discover and to entertain.

One such podcast that I revisited quite recently is the ABC News podcast, 'The Dropout', hosted by American business journalist Rebecca Jarvis, which fascinated me at the first listen and continues to be a prime example of journalistic integrity and the pursuit of the truth.

The podcast explores the publicised downfall of Elizabeth Holmes, former CEO of a health technology company, Theranos Incorporated and the years' long fraud committed that put millions of patients' lives at risk, all the while conveying a story of success that many could only dream of or imagine.

Much of what Elizabeth Holmes achieved and professed to achieve is well-documented: hailed as the next Steve Jobs, a pioneer in the field of medical science, a shooting star of genius who would make healthcare accessible to ordinary American citizens by running a series of medical tests on a single drop of blood from the finger rather than having painful blood draws and heartbreaking periods of waiting.

It was a feminist's dream, that a brilliant woman could bring about such a radical evolution in medical science, to become a CEO of a startup innovation at such a young age and defy the expectations and limiting beliefs that female leaders are doomed to fail in such an environment.

A very succinct timeline of the events can be found here on the Business Insider website, written by Avery Hartmans and Paige Leskin on the 11th August.

Elizabeth Holmes was a revolutionary leader, her face appearing in magazines, being asked to speak at conferences, her vision a shining, grand beacon of the future. The medical technology manufactured by Theranos was meant to revolutionise healthcare.

But it was all a lie.

Elizabeth Holmes on the left, dressed in a black suit and carrying a black folder case and on the right, Ramesh Balwani dresssed in a charcoal grey suit, tie and white shirt.
Elizabeth Holmes and Ramesh 'Sunny' Balwani, leaving court in July 2019

"... an unbelievable tale of ambition and fame gone terribly wrong."

The podcast takes the listener through the events that led to Elizabeth Holmes and former business and romantic partner, Ramesh 'Sunny' Balwani, being indicted on charges of fraud, with recorded testimony from the deposition of Elizabeth Holmes, Mr Balwani and a whistleblower who set the entire sequence into motion.

The investigation takes place over a three year period and is a fascinating dive into the world of health manufacturing technology, the pervasive idea of what it takes to make a dream ambition come true and the victims that suffered the most.

It is a shocking story, told in a matter of fact tone, a straight forward delivery of the facts and a keen investigative reporting by Rebecca Jarvis, laying out the foundation of the key players, their motivations, the buy-in from a prominent American pharmacy chain, Walgreens and the fervent aspirational hope of all involved, that included the founders, financial backers and hangers-on, that this could be a reality.

Elizabeth Holmes, a young woman with blonde hair tied back, wearing a black turtleneck jumper and black trousers, holds a tiny red capsule and stands in front of a large with sign with the words 'The lab rest, reinvented' at the top and the 'Theranos' logo on the bottom.
A pioneer... or is she? Photograph by Drew Kelly / Courtesy of Sundance Institute

A single drop of blood rather than a painful process of drawing blood from the arm that many patients have suffered time and time again. A laboratory filled with machines, a model named 'Edison', that could run those processes in a fraction of the time it would usually take to deliver such results.

It was a fantastic, pioneering idea, and many were wowed by the prospect, but even to someone who has not trained in the medical science field or would have any inkling as to how blood tests are performed, it sounded like something one would find in a science fiction novel rather than in real life.

The podcast tracks the life of Elizabeth Holmes from her teen years inventing a time machine, to her attendance at Harvard and dropping out to pursue her medical testing startup, Theranos, followed by a rise to fame and much publicity around this fantastic invention hailed as the science of the future.

What swiftly followed was a rash of investigations into the faulty machines and practices at Theranos, the attempts to silence employees and detractors, as well as a particularly tragic story concerning a former employee who gave his life to the company, but ultimately crumbled under the pressure.

Elizabeth Holmes at federal court in San Jose, California, 2nd October 2020. Photographer: Michael Short/Bloomberg

For the time being, Holmes has vacated the spotlight to a life of semi-privacy with a new husband and a new temporary lease on life. But for how long?

Holmes faces charges of fraud and could face a prison sentence of up to 20 years if convicted. It would almost be the final death knell for a woman who reached the dizzying highs of stardom to only face a crashing burnout.

As of the writing of this post, her defence team is submitting expert evidence "relating to a mental disease or defect or any other mental condition of the defendant bearing on … the issue of guilt."

Whether it is a strategic ploy to delay matters further, which the global pandemic has already succeeded in accomplishing with the trial being pushed to date this month, remains to be seen.

What cannot be denied is that Elizabeth's Holmes' story is fascinating for the wrong reasons. Deceit, theft and continual obscuring of the truth all play into what ultimately transpired with Theranos, the patients who were at risk and the exposing of the fraudulent activities of Homes and her enablers.

There was a further development this month via Rebecca Jarvis's Twitter on the 12 March, that Elizabeth Holmes is pregnant and as a result, the trial is due to be pushed back to the later part of this year.

Only time will tell about the outcome of this ongoing saga which still inspires fascination, shock and awe to this day.

'We can be heroes...'

And now some personal recounting following the factual analysis above that occurred to me during my research of the themes for this post.

Having heroes has always been a constant theme of my life, from my younger years adoring Disney Princesses, to my formative years admiring female presidential nominees such as Adi Roche and Mary McAleese, and now to the present day looking towards prominent female leaders in the legal profession and in politics..

Women who broke the glass ceiling after years of inequality. Women who stepped up and took on challenging leadership positions.

Yet there are those unsung heroes who rarely receive the recognition they deserve and yet continue to persevere in their chosen path despite obstacles and difficulties are the true heroes and to whom we should look for inspiration in these times we find ourselves in.

So it is always a reassurance each year during International Women's Day, that such pioneering women are given the stage and the opportunity to share their stories, to offer their knowledge and inspire many others aspiring to similar success in the future.

While Elizabeth Holmes' downfall was a marked disappointment for the world of tech, it should never be seen as a deterrent to any other women wishing to make a difference in the world through innovation and a bold, brave idea.


'The Dropout' podcast, ABC News: https://abcaudio.com/podcasts/the-dropout/

Rebecca Jarvis on Twitter: https://twitter.com/RebeccaJarvis

Overview and timeline of the Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes story, published on BusinessInsider.com :


'Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes may seek ‘mental disease’ defence in trial, document shows', Alaric Dearment, Med City News website, 13 September 2020: https://medcitynews.com/2020/09/theranos-founder-elizabeth-holmes-may-seek-mental-disease-defense-in-trial-document-shows/?rf=1

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