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  • 09.06.16

A deeper look inside Theranos’ culture of secrecy 

Like her idol Steve Jobs, Elizabeth Holmes ran a very tight ship at Theranos. But she steered it right into some very treacherous waters. 

When the Wall Street Journal published a report in October of 2015 questioning the company’s super secretive technology, which Holmes claimed could diagnose hundreds of diseases with a mere drop of blood, that strategy didn’t change. According to a new report from Vanity Fair’s Nick Bilton, Holmes holed up in a conference room with her closest advisors, a few lawyers, and some crisis control experts to determine next steps.

Thus far, scant details have emerged about how Holmes has reacted to the ensuing crises over the months, which culminated in Holmes being banned from operating a lab for two years (perhaps we’ll have to wait until the movie to get the full story). But Bilton reported a few telling anecdotes:

* A chant erupted among Theranos employees in the wake of the John Carreyou expose in the Journal, after Holmes addressed them for the first time: “Fuck you, Carreyrou! Fuck. You. Carrey-rou!”

* It was important to Holmes to stay in the loop: “There wasn’t a decision—from the number of American flags framed in the company’s hallway (they are ubiquitous) to the compensation of each new hire—that didn’t cross her desk,” writes Bilton. 

* She borrowed her ideas about secrecy from Jobs. (Note, it’s worth emphasizing that Theranos was making very different claims to Apple. Holmes claimed the technology could save lives; therefore the lack of transparency in this case poses a more serious threat to patients.)

* Theranos employees who were believed to have spoken to the Wall Street Journal during its investigation were threatened with legal action. CF