Imagine having to go head-to-head against your grandfather and tell him he was wrong. Now imagine your grandfather is an incredibly successful, multi-billionaire with a lot of money and credibility on the line. Now imagine that grandfather doesn’t believe you and you have to go through the act of being a whistleblower completely and totally alone. That’s the world Theranos whistleblower Tyler Shultz found himself in when he decided to expose the company.
“You can’t do ‘move fast, break things’ when you’re breaking people,” Schultz explained to Refinery29 back in February in support of The Inventor, an Alex Gibney-directed HBO documentary on the rise and fall of Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes. And yet that’s what the company was willing to do.
The grandson of a member of Theranos’ Board of Supervisors, George Shultz, the younger Shultz joined the buzzy medical company poised to change the healthcare game in 2014. He, like everyone else, was immediately impressed and charmed by CEO and founder Elizabeth Holmes’ intelligence and vision for the future. After all, who wouldn’t want to see a company that claimed to be able to test you for over 1,000 diseases with a single drop of blood, succeed?
About eight months into his time at Theranos, however, Shultz resigned himself to the obvious: the company’s high-profile product — the Edison — didn’t work properly and the laboratory was falsifying or giving incorrect results. He did everything he could to try and fix it from the inside, even going so far as to try and reason with Holmes and also his grandfather, the economist and four-time Cabinet secretary under three different United States presidents. But the elder Shultz wouldn’t listen, siding with Holmes’ words over his own family member’s.
It was an incredibly frustrating time. “She basically pretended like this thing existed when it did not,” Shultz says. “She would pretend like they had revenues when they did not.”
He went on to add that he believes, “A CEO's job is to sell the vision of the company, but I think it's important for CEOs to actually make clear the difference between what is vision and what [it is] they are currently doing. And for Elizabeth, that line got very blurred.”
After Shultz sent documentation to Holmes of his worries and complaints, he quit the very same day. Naturally, Shultz says Holmes was not pleased, calling him frantically, and going so far as to threaten Shultz with legal action. For awhile, she even turned George Shultz against his grandson. Sensing there was nothing left to do, Shultz became a source for Wall Street Journal reporter, John Carreyrou, whose reporting ultimately helped bring down the company and out their lies. His subsequent book, the engrossing read titled Bad Blood, features his interviews with Shultz and others.
With all of that in the past, though, Shultz is looking forward to his future; he founded Flux Biosciences, a medical testing research company dedicated to work he was doing while a student at Stanford. He was even a finalist in 2017 for Forbes' $500,000 Global Change the World Competition, making their 30 Under 30 healthcare list that year as well. As for what he’s working on? Developing innovative medical testing using small amounts of blood, urine, or saliva.
Clearly, the future has been impacted by Theranos whether we like it or not.
“Luckily, I look back and have very few regrets. I'm pretty proud of myself for everything that I did. So things worked out really well,” Shultz says. “I don't think about it that much.”
And though Holmes has yet to suffer consequences for her actions — even going so far as trying to raise capital for yet another start-up — Shultz is not deterred. “The legal system works slowly. It's not over.”