Disgraced former tech darling Elizabeth Holmes is on trial, and high-profile witnesses, such as former U.S. Secretary of Defense James “Mad Dog” Mattis are testifying against her.
Holmes was once considered a rising star in the tech world, a wunderkind prodigy bound for the top, a sort of female Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerburg all rolled into one. Her company, Theranos, claimed to be developing a technology that would be able to detect a large variety of ailments, or quickly scan for things like blood sugar levels, with only a few drops of blood, almost immediately.
Many people were interested in the new technology, and one of them was Mattis.
Fox Business reported that Mattis testified on Wednesday and accused Holmes of misleading him into believing that she was on the verge of pioneering the aforementioned blood test technology, which would have a number of applications for soldiers on the battlefield.
During Mattis’ testimony, which lasted over three hours, he recalled how shocked and excited he was when she first told him about what seemed like such a quantum leap in medical technology. Mattis said he found the potential applications “pretty breathtaking,” and that he found Holmes herself to be a “sharp, articulate, committed” CEO. He addressed her affectionately as “young Elizabeth” in an email written in March of 2013, right before his retirement from active duty, saying “I’m a strong believer in what you have designed/built and hope we can get it in the theater soon to test it.”
The prosecution produced another email during Mattis’ testimony, Holmes appeared to encourage and fan his beliefs: “This initiative is a small way of being able to serve and we will do whatever it takes to make it successful.”
Holmes’ lawyer tried to push back on the notion that he had been duped, showing an email from July of 2013 in which Mattis seemed to express much more modest hopes for the product, and expected a limited impact on the armed forces: “U.S. military may be a customer but likely not immediately, or in a big way.” The email was written while Mattis sought out a position on the Theranos board of directors.
Mattis’ bid to join the Theranos board was successful, joining in late 2013 despite his lack of expertise in medical technology. The reason for this, according to Mattis’ testimony, was that Holmes wanted him to mentor her in leadership and team building. Mattis also invested $85,000 of his personal funds into Theranos in order to have “some skin in the game.” This investment netted him $150,000 annually, according to records submitted by Holmes’ lawyers, though Mattis said on the stand that he told Holmes he would’ve worked for free because “I believe in what you are doing.”
The honeymoon didn’t last, though, and Mattis said that by the time he left Theranos late in 2016, he had lost faith in Holmes. It had been a rough year, as articles in the Wall Street Journal were beginning to pop up asking penetrating questions about the Theranos operation that led to further scrutiny about what was really going on. Each revelation seemed to exacerbate the rapidly snowballing crisis of confidence in Theranos that would end up with the company’s collapse and the present trial of Holmes. “There became a point where I didn’t know what to believe about Theranos anymore,” Mattis testified.
Mattis is but one big name among many who were initially enchanted with Holmes and Theranos. Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, William Perry, and former Wells Fargo Bank CEO Richard Kovacevich were all board members at one point. Whether or not they will testify is not certain yet, but the trial is scheduled to run until the 17th of December, giving plenty of time for still more of the sordid tale of Theranos to come out.
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