Former Theranos employees are still shaken as Elizabeth Holmes trial looms

Elizabeth Holmes, founder and former chief executive officer of Theranos, Center, leaves the U.S. Federal Court in San Jose, California on May 6, 2021.

Nina Riggio | Bloomberg | Getty Images

He was the father of newborn twins who wanted to make a difference in the healthcare sector.

Now that Elizabeth Holmes’ criminal fraud trial begins Tuesday, Micah Nies is tired of “staying in silos” and breaks his silence.

Nies is one of four former Theranos employees interviewed by CNBC ahead of the Holmes trial. The others, who didn’t want their names to be used, say they are still afraid of retaliation from Holmes and former Theranos President Sunny Balwani.

“The fear is real,” said Nies. “Even several years later. The atmosphere was so poisoned that you heard the stories of people disappearing.

Holmes and Balwani have pleaded not guilty to dozens of wire fraud and conspiracy cases. The trial against Balwani will not take place until next year. Holmes and Balwani’s lawyers have not responded to requests for comment.

Nies joined Theranos in March 2015 for $ 185,000 per year as senior manager, customer service and call center operations at the company’s headquarters in Palo Alto, California, according to a letter of acceptance he delivered to CNBC. Theranos recruited him from another San Diego health company at the age of 41.

He reported directly to Balwani, whom he called the “king manipulator”. His job was to solve problems, but he said he soon realized that the real problem was Theranos himself.

Micah Nies, a former Theranos employee, with his twin sons.

Micha Nies

“There was always something fishy or weird,” said Nies. “It was very clear that they were trying to hide something. I woke up every morning and wondered what they were doing today while I tried to figure out my exit strategy.”

Another employee who worked at Theranos quit after it became clear that the company was a “house of cards” and asked not to be named for fear that Holmes and Balwani might retaliate.

Given the upcoming trial, which has been repeatedly postponed, the former employee says she is “sad to witness such an epic failure of due diligence by so many people, but it is also very predictable”.

When asked what she would say to Holmes today, she said, “You are not dealing with someone who is acting in reality. So the meaning of a conversation decreases when someone just sees things as he sees the world would like to have.” . “

The former employees interviewed by CNBC all said they left the company disaffected and upset about what happened, but did not want to let this ordeal rule their careers. Each of them came to Theranos from different perspectives, but looking back, they say their views on what is going on in the company are crystal clear.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if either one of them became War of the Roses,” said Nies, referring to the 1989 film in which a couple struggles over a bad divorce. “He’s got more desperation in terms of money and she’s got a life to look forward to now that she’s trying to renew herself. The recipe is for a guilt game.”

Whether Holmes will take a stand in her own defense remains unknown. Former workers said damage control was routine at Theranos, and everyone agreed that Holmes is inherently optimistic.

“She was good at that,” said Nies. “We got bad news and the next day she was holding a town hall and everyone would glaze over. She’s very charismatic in the sense that she knows how to talk to people.”

And that charisma was featured publicly on CNBC’s “Mad Money” in 2015. The day after the Wall Street Journal published an explosive report that Theranos’ blood testing technology was not working as advertised, Holmes appeared on the air defending her company.

“That’s what happens when you’re working to change things,” Holmes told host Jim Cramer. “First they think you’re crazy, then they fight you, then you change the world.”

Nies, who left Theranos after just a year, stays in touch with some of his former colleagues. He says they “just want to put it in the rearview mirror. Hopefully they’ll find them guilty, Sunny too, and we’ll all just move on. But many of us are skeptical that that will happen since she is part of this elite group.” “

Another senior official, who asked not to be named because he might be asked to testify as a witness, said he felt, “It was taking a long time, we really hoped it would happen sooner. Most of us who worked there are “excited to see it over.”

And a former Theranos executive close to Holmes told CNBC, “It didn’t have to end like this. She could have taken any number of exits and changed the company’s career. Never take your foot off the accelerator. “

The long-awaited trial, which will be one of the most watched cases of financial fraud in recent history, arouses a rush of emotions in those who also believed they could make a difference.

“There’s definitely an unspoken connection between all of us, we’ve been through it together,” said Nies. “Those of us who left Theranos before it all collapsed, we’re on the other side with good careers now. It’s cathartic to talk about.”

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