- REUTERS/Mike Blake
- Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes carefully crafted a persona in order to do what she believed was necessary to fit in the Silicon Valley scene.
- This persona included a Steve Jobs-esque uniform of black turtlenecks and slacks.
- A former employee also believes that Holmes altered her voice as part of the persona.
On Tuesday, Theranos formally shut down its operations, according to The Wall Street Journal.
This marked the final nail in the coffin for a company that was once heralded as a Silicon Valley darling founded by a memorable CEO who donned black turtlecks and spoke in a deep voice. Much of the image crafted for the public by its founder Elizabeth Holmes was based on a life-long obession she had with Steve Jobs and Apple. Anyone who met her could instantly tell.
For years, her trademark style featured a black turtleneck, a blazer, and black slacks, accompanied by a baritone voice. Holmes changed her style once questions were raised around the accuracy of the company’s blood tests and regulators barred the company from operating a blood-testing lab for two years.
The Apple obsession also carried on into the products Theranos was working on. According to Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou in his new book, “Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup,” she liked to call Theranos’ blood-testing systems “the iPod of healthcare” and imagined them to be household products one day. One of her models was nicknamed the 4s, an obvious reference to the iPhone.
As Theranos was getting off the ground in 2007, Holmes had gone and hired several Apple employees, including Ana Arriola, a product designer who worked on the iPhone. She soon became the chief design architect at Theranos and was in charge of making the company’s technology look and feel like an Apple product.
It was Arriola who inspired Holmes’ change in dress. Here’s how Carreyrou described the transition in his book.
“Ana felt that Elizabeth could use a makeover herself. The way she dressed was decidedly unfashionable. She wore wide gray pantsuits and Christmas sweaters that made her look like a frumpy accountant. People in her entourage like Channing Robertson and Don Lucas were beginning to compare her to Steve Jobs. If so, she should dress the part, she told her. Elizabeth took the suggestion to heart. From that point on, she came to work in a black turtleneck and black slacks most days.”
Employees even began suspecting that her uncharacteristically deep voice was also a part of her carefully crafted persona.
Carreyrou spoke to one employee who caught her briefly in her office one evening, where she “lapsed into a more natural-sounding young woman’s voice.” The pitch was several octaves higher than her normal baritone.
The employee suspected that the logic behind her act was an attempt to fit in the Silicon Valley scene. As a woman in a man-dominated field, she had to do what was necessary to get people’s attention and be taken seriously.
This article was initially published in May 2018 and has been updated.