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Common Reading 2023: Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos: A Play on More Than Just Ethical Failures by Medina Williams

Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos: A Play on More Than Just Ethical Failures — Medina Williams

"Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos: A Play on More Than Just Ethical Failures" tells the story of Elizabeth Holmes and her company Theranos, which fell apart when people realized they had made false claims about the success of their blood tests. The academic article explains Holmes's rise and fall and deconstructs what went wrong.

Discussion Questions

  1. If you were in charge of Theranos, what would you have done differently, considering Elizabeth Holmes's failures?
  2. The Theranos scandal quickly garnered lots of media attention. What about this scandal makes it so compelling?

Class Activity

Search for another company that failed to do some research on (e.g., FTX, Enron, etc.) Figure out why that company failed, and consider what could have been done differently to avoid or mitigate the business failure(s).

Introduction — Geneive Henry

Elizabeth Holmes dropped out of Stanford University at 19 years old, and shortly thereafter, she started Theranos, a company aimed at developing transformative diagnostic technology to help patients manage their health. She earned the trust of multiple high-profile investors and built a company valued at 10 billion dollars. Two young college graduates with science degrees joined the company in 2013 because they wanted to contribute to the public good. However, they quickly learned that the company was engaged in unethical business practices and scientific fraud. They brought their concerns to company leadership, but these concerns were not adequately addressed. The two graduates ultimately left the company and became whistleblowers, which contributed to the downfall of the company.

Written as a “play”, the article you are about to read addresses several areas of ethical violations on the part of Theranos, including business and science, but does not discuss the lessons that can be learned from Theranos’s failure. As you read, consider the following:

  1. What lessons can the business and scientific communities learn from Theranos’s failure?

  1. What can potential investors in start-up companies learn?

  1. What lessons can be learned regarding your specific area of study at Susquehanna?

Additional Resources

The Dropout Podcast

Listen to the ABC News podcast about the Theranos situation that inspired the Hulu series starring Amanda Seyfried.

Promises, Deceit and White-Collar Criminality Within the Theranos Scandal

This academic article looks at the Theranos scandal as a case study for corporate and white-collar crime.

About the Authors

Medina Williams is a current Purdue Polytechnic doctoral student. She has an undergraduate degree in mathematics from Christopher Newport University and a graduate degree in economics from Old Dominion University. Ms. Williams has several years of public and private sector experience and currently works as a Product Manager. Her research portfolio covers aspects of fraud, cybersecurity, ethics, and the privacy economy. In addition to pursuing this advanced degree from Purdue, she also holds the following industry certifications: CFE (certified fraud examiner), CSM (certified scrum master), LSSGB (lean six sigma green belt), PMP (project management professional), and Sec+ (security plus).


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