Elizabeth Holmes would get dinner delivered at 8pm so people worked late

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On May 30, Elizabeth Holmes reported to prison to start serving her 11 year sentence. Even though it’s a minimum-security prison, she’ll be subjected to constant surveillance and monitoring. Which is the kind of treatment she gave her employees, as it turns out. Business Insider [via Yahoo] used this opportunity to report some details about Theranos office culture from journalist John Carrreyrou’s book Bad Blood. Carreyrou’s the one whose reporting for the Wall Street Journal blew the story wide open, and Bad Blood was published back in 2018. I’m sure it surprises no one that Elizabeth used many tactics to keep her employees working late, including ordering dinners every night that arrived after 8PM, so that employees couldn’t leave until 10 PM.

Being monitored constantly is something Elizabeth Holmes will have to get used to after finally beginning her 11-year sentence on May 30.

According to John Carreyrou’s book “Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup,” the Theranos founder was obsessed with monitoring how many hours her employees were putting in, and would find ways to keep them working late.

One of these approaches involved getting dinner delivered to the Theranos office every night. However, Holmes timed the delivery between 8 p.m. and 8.30 p.m., meaning staff often weren’t leaving work until 10 p.m., according to the book.

Ordering communal dinners was reportedly one of several unusual tactics Holmes, who tried to model herself on Steve Jobs, would use to both inspire and intimidate Theranos employees.

According to the book, Holmes’ assistants would track the arrival and departure time of workers each day, while IT staff would monitor the software being on employees’ computers. She also had her team add employees on Facebook and tell Holmes what they were posting, Carreyrou wrote.

The surveillance state Holmes appeared to run at Theranos may not be too far removed from her new life at a federal prison camp in Bryan, Texas.

According to The Journal and an inmate handbook for the Bryan camp, she will be woken at 6 a.m. daily, and face five headcounts a day.

[From Business Insider via Yahoo]

Ah, how the turn tables. (I know that’s not the expression, but it is my favorite malapropism.) The controlling boss is now subject to even more intense surveillance than what her employees experienced. I wish I could say that Holmes’s downfall changed Silicon Valley for the better. The failures of businesses like Theranos and WeWork have definitely made investors more cautious. Then the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank changed the mood even more. I lived in the Bay Area for seven years, I saw how billions of dollars just flying around changed the whole region. It all happened so quickly that it felt surreal to be there. Now San Francisco–which used to be a vibrant, fun place–is a hollowed-out shell of itself, plagued with homelessness and drug addiction. Meanwhile, the ones who made good sit at rooftop lounges drinking $21 rosemary Palomas. It’s dystopian. But the company culture issues at Bay Area startups probably still remain. The tactics of control the article describes Elizabeth using–ordering dinners to get people to stay longer, tracking how long people are logged in, following them on social media–none of that seems that abnormal to me? I guess I’ve come to expect that level of surveillance from an employer, at least in white-collar office jobs. I’m a young-ish millennial so maybe that’s why. I’d be curious to know if any of you have experienced that kind of surveillance at a startup.

Something that does make me sad is that female founders still get a really tiny amount of venture capital funding–about two percent of VC money goes to women-owned startups as of March 2023. If they do get funding, they still have to work harder to be taken seriously or to get more money raised down the line. I think Elizabeth Holmes has made it harder for other female founders to get funding because she was such a fraud and a trickster, and we all know how primed people are to believe the worst about women. I don’t have any stats to back that up, it’s just my hunch. And it’s also even more difficult for women of color to get funding. Black-owned businesses account for two percent of all VC funding, and Black women founders get less than one percent. Anyway, I wonder what will become of Elizabeth’s hair while she’s inside. Will it return to the straw-like staticky mess of her glory days?

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44 Responses to “Elizabeth Holmes would get dinner delivered at 8pm so people worked late”

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  1. Pinkosaurus says:

    Totally trivial but her hair was absolutely terrible when she reported to prison. Incredibly dry and frizzy and moving into hag territory. I personally am looking forward to my crone years so I’m sad to see someone so horrible as the image of wild untamed hair.

    • Claire says:

      It’s always been that terrible though right?

      • LUCKSTER says:

        Yes, but it was even worse when she reported. Rat’s nest in the back. Maybe her curls will come back, though.

    • Eve Pane says:

      Her hair has always triggered me. 😆 She has this beautiful head of hair yet she never takes care of it. When she was scamming she never hired a hair dresser to keep her hair in a style.

  2. LadyE says:

    What’s interesting is that these so-called visionaries, Holmes and Musk come to mind, who it’s important to stress are not at all genuises or subject-matter experts in the underlying technology being developed, are supposedly worth the big bucks because of their ability to bring these ideas and new tech from concept to product. But, everything we know about work productivity is directly contrary to the tactics that they employ. Working from 8am to 10pm is *not* going to result in better productivity, in fact the opposite. Yet, these bosses get away with this kind of behavior without anyone challenging them on *their* management skills. Also, irony alert, for every minute wasted by an employee on Facebook, creating a whole set of jobs that are about monitoring that activity is just compounding a waste of resources and time.

    • indica says:

      So ‘back in the day’ (ie, during the internet bubble) Microsoft first popularized the ‘MUST STAY LATE!’ mentality. As in ‘not stop work until 8 or 9! We’re doing good!’ (In fact, you got evaluated on how late you stayed. I know this because I dated someone who worked there.)
      On the other hand… no one went into the office until 11 or 12. Yes, they worked late but they didn’t go in early.
      I’m in the tech field and I evaluate whether or not to take a job based partly on work hours. You pay me for 8 hours a day. That’s all you get, this work late stuff does not fly.

      • It Really Is You, Not Me says:

        My husband and I have had this debate many times, as I came from a law firm and now am an in-house corporate lawyer. My take is that my salary pays for my availability and timely completion of specific projects. That sometimes means that I am on a computer for 10 hours a day but in slower times I take the freedom to be available only by phone for emergencies. He thinks a salary is meant to cover at least 40 hours a week.

      • kristi says:

        But are you really “working” for those 8 hours? If you say you only want to work 8 hours and no more, then they should pay you by the hour, not as a salaried employee. And I could easily see a company monitoring your output and saying, “you were in the office for 8 hours, but you actually only did 4 hours of work. And so we’re only going to pay you for 4 hours”.

      • Malificent says:

        I have friends who were MicroSerfs back in the 90s. They said Microsoft would have “Family Nights” at their office, where spouses could bring the kids for dinner and a bedtime story. The family would then go home while the employee continued to work….

      • Shawna says:

        @Kristi – highly trained workers are on salary to reflect the hours they’ve already put into training, not just the weekly hours logged in.

      • Tacky says:

        In the 90’s there was a mad rush to bring products to market because whoever got there first made insane amounts of money. In the case of Theranos, the product was never going to come to market because what Holmes was proposing was impossible, so over working the staff had no benefit except to make her feel powerful.

      • Juniper says:

        Microserfs! I read the book by Douglas Coupland. I loved that book. It’s worth reread.

    • Jessica says:

      This is the model for all tech companies: Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, etc. I’m from Silicon Valley and the tech companies ruined things because they will bus their employees in, provide food and dry cleaning and whatever else people may need to never leave work….then the restaurants around these places went out of business because they were sold a lie of more workers=more business for the local areas…all lies. I hope all the tech companies go to Texas and ruin it there like they did my home.

    • Sue E Generis says:

      Unless you’re making widgets getting paid for hours is ridiculous. If you’re getting paid for hours, you are saying that you are getting paid for being present. Of what value is that? Unless you are in manufacturing you are being paid for your output and the knowledge and skills that facilitate that.

      Example: An experienced programmer takes 2 hours to build a solution or fix a problem that would take others weeks to address. An experienced attorney might identify potentially costly issues in a deal, or things that may tank a case up front and save a client millions of dollars or hours. Do they deserve to paid less for being more efficient and competent? It’s incredibly silly to pay for time in higher level professions. You pay for output, regardless of how little time it takes.

  3. ChewieNYC says:

    My old law firm use to track employee times (not billable hours but when they logged on and off their PCs, how much time they would spend actually moving through the files) to monitor “productivity”. It’s also not unheard of for companies to offer dinner but only if you stayed till 7pm or whenever. It’s all part of the control mindset of some employers.

    • AnneL says:

      Yes, when I worked at law firms we would have our dinner covered if we stayed until 7. Same with my husband. We used to rely on that to help with our food budget, honestly. The “Big Law” culture is notorious for working associates long hours. And it doesn’t stop when/if you become a partner, really.

    • Lionel says:

      Manhattan law firms would offer a car service home after 9pm, saving strapped associates huge cab fares or hours on the subway. Which made sense, sort of, in the summer (“We’ll give you car service after dark,”) but it was the same time all year long.

    • UptidyFish says:

      In Germany it is mandatory to keep track of working hours. It is to make sure that the workers are not overworked and are compensated for overtimes. It doesn’t work perfectly, of course, but in theory overtime is compensated in one’s hourly wage payment (or more if it is at night or Sundays etc.) or additional day off time.

  4. It Really Is You, Not Me says:

    I read Bad Blood twice because it was so good. It had an interesting take on the idea that Elizabeth Holmes made it harder for women and POC to raise venture capital, which she certainly has. It went into the arguments that Elizabeth Holmes was disproportionately punished because a lot of white male tech bros fake their company’s results until they make it too. In the end, it concluded that while double standards are certainly a piece of the reaction to Holmes, she also was worse than most because of the insane amount of venture capital that she raised, she was messing with people’s health results,and the retaliation and cover up tactics that she actively engaged in.

    • LadyE says:

      Yep! For me, I can acknowledge the double standard, but reading about what they were doing to ill patients’ test result does make this not the run of the mill start up scam. When your company’s “results” are medical test results for serious illnesses that’s a whole different level of outrageous to be faking. I don’t really think she was punished enough, tbh.

    • WiththeAmericann says:

      But what Elon and Zuckerberg are doing is messing with western democracy which is human rights, which will and does lead (inadvertently?) to deaths.

      So I’m not sold on idea that the harm she caused was worse.

    • Cloud says:

      She also distorted the market and took valuable capital away from genuine startups with more potential with her lies – collective opportunity costs – in addition to taking serious risks with ppl’s health!

  5. FancyPants says:

    I’ll be honest, I have never really understood what “business people” do at a desk all day, but.. if her whole lab test thing never existed, what exactly did they need to stay there late to work on? I mean, I get patient after patient at my job and I still end up doing puzzles in a magazine I bring or watching something on my phone during an extended wait a few times a week.

    • dlc says:

      fancy pants, I wondered the same thing myself!

    • Becks1 says:

      So the lab test thing DID exist, it just didn’t work. So there were people there working on the prototype to get it to work, people working on the programming necessary, people who were working on contracts (she signed a big contract with Safeway and maybe….Walgreens? to put the machines in their pharmacies), people working on raising more money, etc.

      Bad Blood is a really good book and Theranos sounds like it was a really toxic place to work, without even getting into the whole defrauding investors side of it.

      • zazzoo says:

        But here’s what I don’t get (and I kinda skimmed Bad Blood at the library, but maybe I should actually read it). I am a veteran of the tech world. I was never that high up, but one thing that stands out to me from the 90s is that employers used all kinds of methods to get employees to stay. Foosball tables, margarita machines, uber casual dress codes. I kinda understand why employees stay in abusive environments like Apple or Facebook, if it means being part of history with potentially unlimited earnings, but when it was clear that this company was struggling, why did talented employees in a hot job market tolerate her abuse? Was it still the constant promise of being part of the next tech revolution? The remotest possibility of being fabulously wealthy?

      • Becks1 says:

        @zazzoo I read the book a few years ago, so I’m not entirely sure, but I think it was a few things – she definitely was hiding the lack of results, really really well. the people who knew weren’t telling the rest of the company. And she was able to get really high powered, educated, intelligent people on her side (former secretary of state? secretary of defense? was one of her investors and on the board, and he told his grandson he was wrong when the grandson told him his doubts about the company.) And I do think a fair amount of employees left. But some tolerated the abuse because they really did buy into “her,” as this talented brilliant groundbreaking CEO.

  6. Denise says:

    Spot on Carina, especially on the office culture. It hasn’t gone away and with inflation/layoffs, it’s even getting worse

  7. Alice says:

    Completely not the point but I lived in Bryan/College Station for 8 years and somehow never knew there was a federal prison in Bryan.

  8. girl_ninja says:

    John Carreyrou’s book was so good and such a compelling look into the world that Holmes created. She was so calculating, devious, greedy and arrogant. I hope that she serves every moment and day of her sentence, but I’m not holding my breath.

  9. Noodle says:

    I enjoyed the “suddenly The Office” quote about the turn table you never know where it will pop up next!

  10. Zan says:

    Ugh— I don’t want to get into a back and forth about this, but I can’t let the whole “hollowed out” zombie apocalypse description of San Francisco go without saying this: San Francisco is always, always changing, as that is the only constant here. I’ve lived in the city itself for decades, and seen multiple boom and bust cycles. We are facing changes to the corporate office work landscape, like most cities “post” pandemic, but the issues of homelessness and drug use are hardly new even though those particular ones make the media salivate and rush to cover our “imminent demise”.
    Tech culture was certainly not what made San Francisco vibrant even during the height of that iteration of the city; the grifters and schemers in tech made the inequality worse and came to use the city as a playground then leave (as they were always going to).
    And I’ll just say that I hope everyone loves their home as much as I do. This is truly a beautiful and unique, albeit imperfect, place to live.

    • KnotKaren says:

      Zan, totally agree! I live near Stanford and am in SF bi-weekly. Still a beautiful, lively and diverse place to be. Tech-driven/favorable legislation did some real damage, as did corruption at City Hall, but it will get worked out. As for tech culture, VC’s own most of the early start-up returns, now, so less incentive to work 18/7 like we used to. Still, Meta’s campus is designed to keep you there as much as possible with streets, restaurants, Dr.’s office, barbershop, dry cleaning, etc., all on site. It’s a strange place. Lastly, Holmes should have gotten a longer sentence!

    • Sarah says:

      Thank you! The far right has a motive for making SF sound like a hell hole and that propaganda seems to have worked and permeated every where. The city isn’t without its problems but I’m tired of it getting disproportionately dumped on.

  11. Kate says:

    Not all of the computer surveillance but the dinner if you stay past 8pm thing is commonplace in big law firms and finance jobs in NYC (or at least was 10-15 years ago when my husband and I were coming up). We were just talking about this with friends the other day. Then everyone would go out to bars/clubs and come to work at or after 10am. I don’t miss it.

  12. BeanieBean says:

    I’ve never worked in tech but I’ve always used a computer on the job, therefore I’ve been monitored. We all are, or have the potential to be. In one job, I had to be in at 6AM because certain computer programs had to be run by 607AM, then the next ones at 613AM, & so on. It was just a slightly different way of punching a time clock (you can see these in old movies). When I worked at a public TV station, my boss, the engineer, once showed me what one of his extra computers was for: monitoring the computers of all the station’s employees. He could see what everyone was logged into. And finally, now, I’m a federal employee, so monitoring is possible–you are warned every time you sign in to various applications that this is a federal computer & that it’s to be used for official government business etc etc.
    The whole ‘dinner at work at 8P’ thing holds little sway over me. I’d leave work anyway–actually, long before 8P–I just don’t need a ‘free’ meal that badly. I don’t see how you can make dinner at work mandatory. But then, I’ve always been an hourly employee, never salary, so it’s easier for me to say nope, my 8hrs are up, buh-bye.

  13. Ameerah M says:

    She also had former employees stalked and followed by hired PIs. She even had a few threatened.

  14. tealily says:

    I don’t think a free dinner would be enough to keep me there late. I guess dinner’s a nice perk, but it’s not like it’s part of your salary.

  15. phaedra7 says:

    She’s another ARROGANT NARCISSIST who still wants just about the same treatment for herself that she had afforded her before her arrest, indictment, and imprisonment! 🤨😒😣😖😫😡

  16. j.ferber says:

    I know many companies serve breakfast, lunch and dinner (no doggy bags) so employees (especially the single ones) end up practically living there. But I can’t fault her for that alone (dinner at 8), since it wasn’t mandatory that they stay. It’s the other stuff she’s going to jail for, right?

  17. Ange says:

    Maybe it’s the field I’ve worked in but I’ve never been subject to anything close to that here in Aus (though we also have things like billable hours for law etc). The most I’ve ever had is Teams so people can see if I’m available, busy or away but I doubt people check it that rigorously.

    I’m in the six figure club these days and still have a lot of flexibility in how I meet my hours. I doubt there would be much of a talent pool lining up to be surveilled like that here.

  18. Deering24 says:

    A reporter friend of mine who was a military-history buff covered the first tech boom in the 80′-90s. And as he so aptly noted, hours like these–no matter what the perks/salary/status/whatever– make no sense unless your country is at war. Tech history has proved him right a hundred times over.

  19. Onomo says:

    The combined cost of theft, robbery, larceny, auto theft etc in the US is $14 billion but wage theft by employers is $50 billion. I also read that 80% of the homeless in SF were priced out by rent inflation. Cities like SF and NYC make seeing these problems unavoidable, but it’s not a reflection on the goodness or badness of the city.