4 min read

Warm Take: Rebrand This

Profiling Liz
Shopping carts, grey asphalt foreground; background is white RV "swish" graphics, trees and setting (or rising) sun.
Our first night in the RV in 2015... of course it was in a Walmart parking lot, Corey Taratuta, CC BY 2.0 (cropped)

Mundane, embarrassing confession: especially after decades of experience with mindfulness practices -- I sleep with my phone. Often, like this morning, I wake up at 5am. Sometimes, before lifting my head from the pillow, I scroll through The New York Times. Good job, Anne. Awesome.

Today, wow. Just wow, “Liz Holmes wants you to forget about Elizabeth."

I still get the print version of the Sunday Times. Most weeks, I barely open it, disappointed (mostly with myself) because I’ve already read most of it online. After seeing to coffee, today I made a point of reading the actual paper. Sunday Business did not disappoint – discredited Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, front page, above and below the fold. And a full two-page spread, inside.

Times reporter Amy Chozick spent several days with Holmes, her partner* Billy Evans, and their young family. If you’ve followed Holmes, the beats of her backstory are all in there. Along with plenty of juicy new details, to add color. The car, Tesla. The partner, cute and moneyed. The toddler’s second-language skills, Mandarin. The infant, nursing.

The RV trip with overnights in Walmart parking lots. The brand name of the breast pump she used during her trial. The actual color of the nipples on the pump:  “glowing aqua.”

Chozick also spoke with people who knew and worked with Holmes; Holmes and Evans supplied her with access to friends and supporters. Someone Holmes had classified as a supporter did disagree with the severity of Holmes’ sentence; they also anonymously urged Chozick not to believe everything Holmes might say.

As celebrity business profiles go, it’s not quite gonzo, like Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s Gwyneth Paltrow profile. And, it’s a lot.

A reader might infer that Holmes’ story is a cautionary tale for young women, about what can happen if you fly too close to the venture capital sun while not-male. Yet the article is not about how Holmes’ financial and legal outcomes differ from others in her peer group, say, male founders with significant failures who seem to have had similarly loose-to-non-existent relationships with the truth. (Cough, cough, Adam Neumann.)

That’s not what this story is for, though. Holmes and her advisors must have hoped she’d accrue some benefit from a Times profile, hard to say. First interview with Holmes since 2016? This is a good get for Chozick and the Times. The author spent several days with Holmes and her family; Holmes later invited her to return, and bring her own family. After that, the kicker:

Then I realized why they kept opening the door wider. Ms. Holmes is unlike anyone I’ve ever met — modest but mesmerizing. If you are in her presence, it is impossible not to believe her, not to be taken with her and be taken in by her. Liz Holmes and Billy Evans know that. I politely declined their invitation.

"Liz Holmes Wants You to Forget About Elizabeth," Amy Chozick, The New York Times, May 7 2023.

“The Talented Ms. Holmes,” anyone?

Articles I wish someone (else) would write

I long for a comparative financial analysis on Theranos and WeWork. Surely there’s enough anecdotal information — and maybe more, in court records from the Holmes trial – so that a financial reporter with institutional backing could offer a back-of-the-envelope look at the winners and losers in these former unicorns.

Wanted: ice axe; rope; crampons; base camp team

When an organization needs to be turned around, sometimes the person brought in to clean things up is not a white man. These assignments can be positioned as "stretch roles," theoretically a way to gain great skills, and build credibility. Without support, nobody can turn around a business, department, or even job function. Without support, you're on a glass cliff.

Especially in organizations where layoffs are happening, some people will be promoted before they're quite ready. If this is happening in your organization, on your team, how will act to set people up for success? And if you're the one being promoted – or getting a big check from an investor – who's on your support team?

Thanks for reading On Management, and special thanks to folks who pay to support my newsletter. I love hearing from you, so please do hit reply if you have questions or suggestions for I should be write about in the newsletter.

Today's (extremely) Warm Take was written while drinking my Sunday morning coffee, and may include typos, inelegant turns of phrase, and other things that may or may not be repaired later on, on the Internet*.

May you, your loved ones, and everyone in your circles, be safe, healthy and free,

Anne Libby

*5/8/23 correction: the original issue of the newsletter stated that Billy Evans was Holmes' husband; I've corrected this online.

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