The mystery and scandal surrounding the story of Theranos and its CEO Elizabeth Holmes is a fascinating one, made all the more engrossing thanks to her secret relationship with the president of the company which was only revealed after the fact. Back in June 2018, the government charged Holmes and former boyfriend Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani with several crimes, meaning these now-former lovebirds are arguably going through one of the worst breakups, ever. Both pleaded guilty. But Holmes and Balwani hadn’t commented on their relationship publicly until deposition tapes were reported on by Nightline in January 2019, even though John Carreyrou confirmed as much in his exhaustive book on the subject, Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup. So how did it all begin and what do we know about the super-secretive duo? Let’s break it all down for you.
How & When Holmes & Balwani Got Together
Holmes and Balwani met, according to the latter’s divorce filings, in 2002, while on a trip to Bejing with Stanford. Balwani was at Berkeley for his MBA and Holmes was a senior in high school. They were 37 and 18, respectively, but didn’t start a romantic relationship until — some reporting suggests — Holmes dropped out of Stanford in March 2004. This is, interestingly enough, also the time she decided to go out and try and get seed money for Theranos. According to Bad Blood, they were living together by July 2005.
Balwani & Holmes Keep Their Romance Secret
Balwani and Holmes didn't tell investors about the relationship. Ever. Even though the duo shared a home, and had for some time. But it’s clear Balwani had some influence on Holmes, given his previous life as a dot-com billionaire. He made money quickly, off of sales of things he created, ultimately walking away from the company he founded (after it was sold) with $40 million right before the bubble burst.
When Did Their Relationship Become Professional?
But Balwani didn’t join Theranos until 2009. Once installed by Holmes, he quickly rose up the ranks from vice president to Chief Operating Officer, despite his lack of experience in biomedical engineering, medical technology, or biological sciences. (Balwani was a computer science undergrad with an MBA, hardly qualified for the gig, all things considered.) As the man in charge of the day-to-day operations, Balwani became known around the Theranos office for his demanding, angry demeanor. Video and audio of Balwani acting in such a way is heavily featured in the new documentary The Inventor: Out For Blood In Silicon Valley, headed to HBO on March 19th, directed by Alex Gibney.
In an interview with Business Insider, Carreyrou explained that during a phone call with a source, it became “very clear to me that they were running this thing as a partnership, and that Sunny was kind of the enforcer and Holmes' older boyfriend.” The source “painted the portrait of this fraud being run by a couple." Other reports claim board member Henry Kissinger even tried to set Holmes up on dates, but she evaded him and actively lied to the rest of the board about her relationship status, and her ties to Balwani himself.
So How Did Holmes & Balwani End?
Not well, and in a flurry. As heat was beginning to rise up around Theranos in 2016 — thanks to the whistleblowers and Carreyrou’s reporting — Holmes got rid of Balwani from both her personal and professional life. In April/May of 2016, Balwani announced he was retiring: sources inside the company, however, say that he was fired. Other lines of reporting from ABC News seem to back this up: when Holmes decided things were too much, she cleaned house. Unfortunately few things kill the flames of love faster than being investigated by the FDA, FBI, and CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services).
Following his Theranos departure in 2016, things didn’t get easier for Balwani. He was banned from owning or operating a blood laboratory by the CMS following an inspection of Theranos’ Newark, California, laboratory in March 2016. In March 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed four claims against him for violating the U.S. Securities Act when he lied to and purposefully misled investors and the public in order to secure additional funding. And finally, in June 2018, a federal grand jury indicted Holmes and Balwani on nine counts of wire fraud and two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud for knowingly distributing blood tests with falsified results. Still, Balwani claims he never made any money off of his time at Theranos, so he shouldn’t be considered responsible.
Needless to say: it doesn’t feel like these two will ever get back together.