Theranos and its founder disgraced in image-wrecking PR bloodbath

by | Mar 16, 2018 | Public Relations

Oh, how the mighty have fallen! Was there ever as promising an outlook for a teenage girl as Elizabeth Holmes in 2003, who left Stanford University behind at 19 years of age when she devised what was called a “revolutionary blood analysis company” poised to upend the industry with its affordable alternative for patients?

The founder of Theranos, and inventor of the much-awed blood-testing machine named “Edison,” Holmes found herself on the fast track to multi-billion-dollar success, amassing trailblazing accolades like “the next Steve Jobs” along the way—not to mention becoming a major role model for young girls worldwide with her glass-ceiling-shattering ascendency in the (surprise!) male-dominated healthcare industry, and the even more male-dominated elite confines of Corporate America.

When Theranos collapsed after the miracle machinery of “Edison” turned out to promise (way) more than it could deliver following employee comments in The Wall Street Journal that led to an intensive SEC investigation in 2015, we wondered what would become of the one-time golden girl.

We found out this week when the SEC leveled charges of massive fraud against her and former Theranos president Sunny Balwani (whom Holmes was dating at the time). As a result, Holmes is banned from holding any executive position at a public company for 10 years, will pay a hefty fine and return millions of shares, and has become a huge black eye on American feminism.

Theranos and its founder disgraced in bloody PR collapse

An SEC official called the Theranos fallout an “important lesson for Silicon Valley.” “Innovators who seek to revolutionize and disrupt an industry must tell investors the truth about what their technology can do today—not just what they hope it might do someday,” said Jina Choi, director of the SEC’s San Francisco regional office, BBC News reported.

After the WSJ article, Holmes did everything she could to save as much face (and as much of her $9-billion fortune) as possible. She denied the report, calling it “false” and “misleading,” and made a fidgety appearance on the “Today Show,” expressing her regrets to Maria Shriver that the company didn’t “catch and fix these issues faster.” Her battle-ready stance was convincing, with Forbes even declaring that she was “winning the PR war” for Theranos.

But this week’s ruling has finally decided once and for all that she lost it. To play on the “wizard” metaphor that once embraced her, she dodged the pail for as long as she could until the water was finally thrown on her. And now the melt begins.

Theranos and its founder disgraced in bloody PR collapse

She’s not the only powerful woman that was shamed this week—after being named as the FBI’s first female director in a victory hailed as a “win for women,” Gina Haspel was also disgraced when it became known that she had led a U.S. torture program and a “secret prison” in Thailand in 2003, where several accused terrorists were waterboarded.

We have no doubt that women in America and around the world will not be deterred in their evolving quest and rapidly rising momentum to stake out the corporate equality they deserve, but never let it be said that it’s been easy!

Theranos and its founder disgraced in bloody PR collapse

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Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 17 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richard.carufel@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter


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